15 May 2006

An excellent venture has gone astray. Its purpose was to mobilize for U.N. causes. A limited number of stars with proven dedication to a specific purpose would have more impact on the public than wily politicians. They were initially designated, about six of them, to carry the torches as envoys or messengers. The first was Maestro Luciano Pavarotti in 1998. He is now so weary of the project that he would hardly respond to bungling clerks asking him to appear at a certain location to sing!

There were a number of impressive individuals with undisputed impact who through their work or life provided inspiration. However, the shameless self-promoters saw in it a networking opportunity, a device to introduce themselves rather than the causes in need of support. Suddenly, staffers with any influence will try to connect with their favourite actor or singer to offer a designation of sorts. Everyone was going to Hollywood rather than the field. Some also went to Wall Street or its equivalents in Europe and the Gulf countries. At a recent dinner for UNESCO "Special Ambassadors" in Paris, certain wealthy Arabs found themselves assembling at Place Fontenoy rather than their usual gathering at the restaurant of the George V.

Suddenly, we have gossip stories of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (and the lonely life of the delicious Jennifer Aniston) splashed everywhere with Ms. Jolie's designation as special envoy for U.N. refugees. Even Drew Barrymore was drawn into "heading" what was dubbed as "Friends of the U.N." Were it not for the "Lobster Risotto" concept, she would still be best friends. U.N. compound was open to movie takers (?), in return of course for an exacted price, certainly not in U.N. rewards. Nicole Kidman was the latest addition to a somewhat pleasantly surprised Noeleen Heyzer of the U.N. Fund for Women.

There is an urgent need to control this situation. It is not only the circus atmosphere. Problems often arise when stardom is mixed inadvertently with a public cause. In the case of Ms. Jolie, it is not her bragging about her sexual life -- which isn't an exemplary role model anyway. It is the friction arising with media anxious to cover her delivering a baby in Nambia. Reporters claimed harassment, cameras broken and journalists arrested. In most of these complaints, her U.N.-related role is mentioned. Is there no one to clearly advise her to separate fame and fiction from real life miseries?

Another problem is in publicity-seeking envoys who seek to display poverty-stricken malnutritioned women and children. In seeking to inflate their egos, they are humiliating millions of needy people and their rightful causes. There is an increasing number of stars, quasi-stars and "wannabees" trying to exploit the already exploited poor of the world -- and with encouragement by some U.N.-related characters.

A worthy venture is turning into a worldwide embarrassment. It is important for the Secretary General -- or possibly the new Deputy Secretary General -- to take the matter in hand. It is time to bring those unguided stars down to earth.