Bringing positive change through communications
The work of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva
1 Oct 2022

In a recent speech to the UN Information Centres’ Directors, UNOG Director-General Tatiana Valovaya remarked how striking it was that one thing remains unchanged since the League of Nations’ times: as the UN family works together to find global solutions to global challenges, we need the support of the world, and this is why our work with the media was and remains so crucial.

The Director-General touched upon the main function of our communications work: we, at the UN Information Service, are the voice of international Geneva. We speak to the media and through their coverage of our activities, we speak to the world. But are our audiences hearing what we say, amidst the noise of crowded media spaces? What are the tools that we use to get our messages through?

In taking his Oath of Office in 2016, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “It is not enough just to do better. We must be able to communicate better about what we do, in ways that everybody understands. We need a substantial reform of our communications strategy, upgrading our tools and platforms to reach people around the world.”

Our Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, took him at his word with a new communications strategy based on three principles: Learn; Care; Act. On the wave of the so-called “constructive journalism,” it moves away from fear-based messaging and aims to convey reliable information that allows our audiences to make informed decisions – the LEARN. Such information needs to “forge an emotive connection between individuals and our shared global challenges,” through powerful human-centered storytelling – the CARE. And most importantly, it must inspire people to take action, as they feel empowered to make a difference – the ACT.

The theme of this year’s literacy week, Nurturing Trust, feeds itself with this approach, which showed all its relevance when COVID-19 erupted into our lives. Widespread fear, mistrust in institutions, and misuse of digital platforms, leading to a global upsurge of harmful fake news, were countered by the UN through the “Verified” initiative.

Applying the communications strategy, the Information Service works daily with media from all over the world to convey our “LEARN” outside of the Palais walls, so that the public can CARE and TAKE ACTION. You have surely seen in action at the Palais some of the 170 journalists permanently accredited to UNOG, including from the main European, Middle East, and Asian news agencies, with a strong presence of our host country’s main media.

This thriving on-site press corps gets bigger when large events take place at UNOG, such as the Human Rights Council or the International Labour Conference. Pledging conferences such the ones for Afghanistan or Yemen, and negotiations for the resolution of conflicts, such as those in Syria or Cyprus, also draw the eyes of the world to the UN in Geneva.

From producing news that informs these journalists about the latest UN events, to organizing press conferences and issuing summaries of meetings, the Information Service helps the media get their stories out to the world. At our bi-weekly press briefings, spokespersons from across the UN system in Geneva provide expert information about the most recent developments in global affairs. We feed media organizations across the world the latest developments, helping them tell UN stories with images, sounds, and text. From the UNTV studios in Geneva, we distribute live and edited broadcast news material via UNifeed, the UN Geneva multimedia newsroom and news agencies, and through a longstanding partnership with the European Broadcasting Union.

UNTV studios during 19th session of the Human Rights Council, 2 March, 2012

We are particularly proud of our media support to the 2021 meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that elected a temporary executive authority. Not only were the proceedings broadcast live, but interactive sessions were organized so that the new executive could exchange directly from Geneva with an estimated 2 million people in Libya, who followed the proceedings on social media with many more millions seeing the story on TV channels across the world. By bringing the faces and voices of the Forum’s members to the Libyan people and to the international community, we believe we strongly contributed to building the trust and confidence needed for peace.

When speaking about nurturing trust and solidarity, we cannot forget the @UNGeneva social media accounts that share a mix of official messages and behind-the-scenes images and videos, fostering engagement in global campaigns. Today we are fast approaching the two million follower mark. And there is so much more that our Service does – from outreach activities such as Cine-ONU and the Young Activists Summit, to the very popular guided tours of the Palais des Nations or the UN Geneva news podcasts in English and French – to inform and inspire people, developing their media literacy.

But in all these activities, we have only one goal: to use the power of communications to help bring about positive change, so that everyone everywhere can thrive on a healthy planet – in peace, with dignity and equal rights.

* Alessandra Vellucci is the Director of the UN Information Service at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
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