1 August 2004

An adverse U.N. image in the Arab world is obviously related to the conflict with Israel. Within that margin, however, there is room for creative professional work. DPI Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor took a positive step forward in holding a meeting in Beirut and -- more important -- in the wide range of interviews he gave to a receptive media. Ahmed Fawzi, the senior Arab in that department, eventually returned from his long visit to Iraq with Lakhdar Bridhimi and is -- hopefully -- taking a hands on approach to dealing with Arab media. Awaiting a comprehensive innovative plan, there may be at least three pressing areas to be treated urgently. The first is faulty feedback. Particularly the Centre in Beirut has been deliberately negligent in reporting adverse comments. What New York doesn't know wouldn't hurt it -- or him -- goes the approach of the fellow with the fake bow-tie. He may feel that a negative comment would reflect negatively on his performance. He should feel more confident. Unless Headquarters is aware of a brewing problem, how could they help solve it? He is an excellent networker with the networks but almost hopeless in the opinion section. It does not hurt seeking guidance from his supervisors. Their input could complement his vulnerability. Also, now that he finally received his promotion, he should take it easy on his other colleagues in the field and possibly strengthen his Arabic. That he cannot write a full paragraph could be covered, but he should at least be able to read better and interpret press interviews more accurately.

The second urgent problem is a dysfunctional Arab-speaking team at Headquarters. Someone who can liaise fairly with amenable Arab delegations in New York may have no clue about Arab media in the field. Someone whose main effort is to undercut his colleagues and go behind their back to connect with potentially helpful higher ups may have no credibility whatsoever with any serious editor. So, how could he deal effectively with his colleagues in the field? He could convey directives, but could neither guide nor inspire those actually facing the challenges daily on the ground. This led to a cliquish attitude; those considered friendly are pitted against those considered undesirables. Arguments are not unusual in any group, but not to the point of daily acrimony. It is common knowledge in Beirut that press officers of various agencies in the same U.N. building have no time for the DPI Chief Information Officer and he responds similarly. It is also common knowledge that the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia had written against that officer who is officially on her payroll. A similar position was taken by her predecessor. What kept him on is his talent to network with the political side of the house. Pity that he does not help himself -- and the U.N. -- better by having a reality check on his actual size and demonstrate a positive service to the whole system. A fragmented approach leads to a fragmented image.

A third area is the level of performance by some senior U.N. officials. You cannot expect sterling coverage with mediocre delivery. Let's stop here before going further into more embarrassing territory -- hoping for some improvement. There will have to be some real achievements to talk about. An essential part of looking good is BEING Good.