15 April 2005

Amazing how an expensive embarrassment was turned into a claimed achievement. THIRTY U.N. Information people including the Under-Secretary General for Public Information spent SIX DAYS in the balmy Cannes in April under the pretext of participating in "a major media forum." That "major forum" is the annual International Television Market, known professionally as MIP -- which is limited to promoting actual television products or exchanging co-production opportunities. Its participants are television practitioners and marketing staff of producing outfits.

For years, the U.N. participated successfully and effectively with ONE person. Barbara Sue Ting-Len of the Promotion and distribution of audio-visual material, regularly handled the kiosk, often representing other programs like UNEP and WHO while UNESCO sent someone from nearby Paris. Then, the U.N. produced MORE videos than it does now. At minimum travel cost, the U.N. MADE MONEY on sales, an average of THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS a MIP.

Now Tharoor is going with a "30-strong team." WHAT FOR? All that EXPENSE, about $200,000, for setting up a kiosk and passing through tents of video hardware! A press release quotes Tharoor as claiming that "throughout the week we want to explore new media cooperation and campaigns to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic"! He also injects the Millennium Development Goals and somehow invokes the name of Secretary General Kofi Annan and his Global Media AIDS initiative!

This shameless exploitation of a deadly disease and his habitual exploitation of Kofi Annan's name has little to do with the Cannes TV Market. It's a MARKET not a campaign arena. No lectures on issues; no audiences; no radio or press participation. Its an annual meeting of AUDIO-VISUAL DISTRIBUTION AND SELLING OF PRODUCTS. A press release indicates that one product is UNIFEED, a 10-minute weekly satellite video news service provided though the Associated Press Television's Global Video Wire that reaches more than 500 broadcasters worldwide. That is very good. But how many actually DOWNLOAD IT? And would that require the head of the Public Information and Communications Department to head a "30-strong team?" Another product, we were told was "Voices," a TV spot urging governments to honour their commitments "to halve extreme poverty and reduce or eliminate social ills by 2015." Is that why Tharoor has to spend a week of April in Cannes? There was also that Japanese animated series "Robotech" for the U.N.'s 60th anniversary. What unfortunate symbolism. And, as to relevant work, the "team" sought co-producers "to help tell the dramatic, yet untold story of the architectural birth of landmark buildings." Good luck!

All that hot air to cover up a week in Cannes, after just returning from Japan via Moscow. Who pays for all this? How does it really help the U.N. and its beleaguered Secretary General? Not much, really. It mainly raises astonished smiles and sarcastic remarks about wasting "other people's money" and leads to more erosion of U.N. standing. As if any official in New York cared!