On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, a gathering of several hundred students, faculty, administrators and honored guests convened in Hennessy Hall (The Mansion – an historic building housing classrooms and administrative offices) on the bucolic campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University/Madison. Those in attendance were treated to an evening of enlightening and engaging conversation from the night’s featured speaker United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal and moderator Dr. Jason Scorza, Vice-Provost for International Education and Professor of Political Science and Philosophy.
The topic of discussion, Communications and Public Information: Key to U.N. Success or Failure?, centered on how the U.N. crafts its message, how the global body highlights its achievements and the positive work it does around the world and what communication tools do they utilize – new media, traditional print and electronic (TV and radio) media, or a combination of both?
Dr. Scorza posed a series of excellent questions for Mr. Tieffenthal, and the FDU professor fully engaged the audience in the conversation with the U.N. official, which set the stage for what ultimately turned out to be a very enriching and educational experience for all.
Under-Secretary-General Tieffenthal began his remarks by highlighting some of the important work and accomplishments of the U.N. such as the assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Syria, the 2.5 million children saved from vaccinations directly as a result of the work of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the world body’s efforts on the frontlines in conflict zones. The major challenge, he believes, is how the U.N. translates its work from its headquarters in New York City directly to those who need help the most on the ground in the developing world.
Dr. Scorza began by asking the speaker the following question: What is the Department of Public Information? UNDPI was established in 1946 and there are 750 employees of the department in New York, in addition to 63 offices and information centers around the world. According to the UNDPI website, the mission of the department is to Inform. Engage. Act. The DPI uses a combination of new media and traditional media to disseminate its message. On social media platforms, like Twitter, there are 1.3 million followers of the global body as well as 3 million followers on Weibo in China.
Dr. Scorza followed up by asking some specific questions about UNDPI. What does DPI do when the U.N. General Assembly makes a decision? How do you evaluate the effect of celebrity involvement in the work of the U.N.? The UNDPI takes advantage of all communication mediums to convey decisions of the U.N. General Assembly.
Celebrity involvement raises the public consciousness of specific U.N. issues; whether it is Forest Whitaker’s advocacy on behalf of child soldiers or Elie Wiesel speaking out against anti-Semitism or Angelina Jolie’s work with refugees as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy and her work to eliminate land mines, the effect a celebrity has by having their name attached to a particular issue is immeasurable. As Mr. Tieffenthal pointed out, the only real measurable of celebrity involvement is the noticeable increase in social media traffic that occurs as a result of their high-profile efforts. The Austrian diplomat added that it is very important that the U.N. have partners like Hollywood, Bollywood (India) and Nollywood (Nigeria) as well as the private sector to increase the efficacy and visibility of its messages. Q&A Session Equally Engaging
If anyone needed confirmation that this audience was paying attention to the one hour of conversation that occurred, they only had to listen to the questions posed by the attendees. Each question was well thought out in advance and allowed for further discussion on the important issues addressed. They covered a rather broad spectrum from: How does the UNDPI track if their publications, UNTV, UN Radio are being monitored? What was the single, largest challenge the speaker has faced? How can U.N. leadership separate out their personal involvement on an issue, like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s (the UNSG is South Korean) closeness to the North/South Korean situation? How does the U.N. “keep the energy going” long after an event has ended? Based on the overall presentation, Mr. Tieffenthal clearly followed his department’s mission as he was informative, engaging and certainly appeared to have some in the audience ready to act.