Accuracy in Media

Led by the New York Times, the U.S. media have made a major scandal out of the Bush administration’s using Video News Releases, VNRs, to get its message out. The VNRs were called “propaganda” and “illegal.” But the same thing was done under President Clinton. And we haven’t seen any outrage over the United Nations doing the same thing on a global scale. The U.N. recently sent 30 of their “audio-visual professionals” to a major media forum in Cannes, France, to promote U.N. productions and come up with new ways to manipulate the media. That includes VNRs.

The U.N. highlighted this new initiative in a release headlined, “UN seeks higher global media profile through Cannes TV programming market.” The U.N. team to France is being led by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.

“United Nations Multimedia” is already a special category of its own on the U.N. web site. This covers U.N. television, radio, and other features. One of them is “Video News Releases,” the same kind of thing the Bush Administration has been criticized for disseminating.

The U.N. distributes these VNRs through something called UNIFEED. The U.N. describes it as a 10-minute weekday satellite video news service provided through the Associated Press Television’s Global Video Wire that reaches more than 500 broadcasters worldwide.  This service is described as providing journalists around the world with pictures and stories about the U.N. UNIFEED

Here’s the official description: “UNIFEED delivers to the world’s broadcasters stories produced by several UN agencies and programs. The 10-minute UNIFEED transmission features professionally-shot stories and expert interviews on a variety of international issues, often featuring countries rarely visited by broadcast journalists. The stories focus on pressing international issues such as HIV/AIDS, conflict resolution, poverty and the environment and highlight efforts by the UN and its agencies to tackle them.”

UNIFEED goes on to say that, “We encourage broadcasters to use these stories ‘as is’ or to adapt them to their particular audiences. In many cases, we can provide additional background information and contacts for further interviews.”

One of  13 U.N. entities showing their productions at Cannes will be the U.N. Environment Program, which will showcase “Eco 4 the World,”  described as a half-hour 13-part television magazine show. UNEP’s targets in the past have included children. Its Environmental Sabbath program advised that children sit around a tree, hold hands, and meditate. UNEP also publishes children’s books. The latest, Theo and the Giant Plastic Ball, is described as “An Environmental Story for Children.”  It’s about a boy who makes a ball out of discarded plastic bags.

Other U.N. products include “Voices,” described as a series of TV spots asking the people of the world to urge Governments to meet the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals. That means more foreign aid from the U.S.

One big focus of U.N. programming is HIV/AIDS. In the U.S., the U.N. has developed a partnership with MTV, which along with an alliance of cable networks in the United States called Cable Positive, “is using educational broadcasting to fight the spread of the disease.”

Cable Positive says it is the cable and telecommunications industry’s AIDS action organization and includes supporters from every major network and media publication in the U.S.

Educating people about HIV/AIDS sounds laudable. One problem is that the campaign has taken the form of advising people to get sometimes unreliable tests about HIV/AIDS. We examined that issue in a special AIM report. You can find that at:

Despite questions about the nature of this “educational” message, the U.N. says this initiative will be expanded and that “independent TV producers” will be proposing ideas for anti-HIV/AIDS programming to a jury chaired by MTV for instant decisions.

We will be waiting for the New York Times to denounce all of this as covert propaganda by the U.N.

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