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13 May 2004 – With Western Asia and the Middle East grappling with "profound unease" and "disappointed aspirations," the top United Nations communications official today called on the region's media experts and journalists to help refine a strategy aimed at bringing the Arab world and the UN closer together.
"I, for one, am convinced that if people in the region are better able to understand what we are and what we do, they will support our efforts," the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, told experts gathered in Beirut for the Strategic Communications Meeting for the Middle East and the Arab Region.
With upheaval in Iraq and the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, Mr. Tharoor said that, perhaps more so than at any other time in recent memory, this was a time of profound unease, "reflection and self-questioning in the Arab world."
But with the daily struggle of ordinary people for dignity and justice, the many UN activities designed to improve the lives of Arabs deserve to be better known in the region, he said. "We…want to find ways to help you inform your constituents and your audiences of UN Development Programme (UNDP) projects to eradicate poverty and of UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) efforts to eradicate polio."
He said that the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) wanted journalists to join mine-clearing teams in south Lebanon and TV camera crews to document water desalination and environmental projects in Cairo. "We want to help you highlight (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) UNRWA's income-generation projects in the occupied Palestinian territories," he said, appealing to the media in the region to present the full picture - "a picture that is far more complex and diverse than most people imagine."
Mr. Tharoor said the meeting also planned to discuss how best to strengthen the role of civil society in the region, as it was "an increasingly important partner in our efforts to advance the noble goals of the UN Charter." He said one way "might be to re-energize and, where necessary, reactivate the work of the Arab United Nations Associations."
But the aim was not to divert attention away from the "big ticket" issues of Iraq and the occupied territories, he said, noting that the discussions in Beirut were a follow up to a 2003 meeting held in New York where UN system communications experts had pooled their knowledge and their skills, and developed a strategic framework that is now serving as the foundation of the world body's efforts to help the Arab world better understand the Organization.
That meeting had come as "the United Nations was looking down the barrel of a regional crisis of confidence in the Organization," brought about largely, but not entirely, by events in Iraq, Mr. Tharoor noted. DPI had subsequently joined with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) to organize today's follow-up to "put more flesh on the bones" of the 2003 meeting, in particular by building a concrete Plan of Action to deliver on that strategic framework, he said.