The GAO Renders Its Verdict: The U.N. Information Service IsAnti-American


The GAO Renders Its Verdict: The U.N. Information Service IsAnti-American

June 9, 1986 20 min read Download Report
Thomas L.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

515 June 9, 1986 THE GAO RENDERS ITS VERDICT THE UmNm INFORMATION SERVICE IS ANl'I-AMENCAN INTRODUCTION The U.S. General Accounting Office has confirmed that the United Nations' main public information organ is biased against the U.S. A recently completed GAO conten t analysis of materials produced by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) finds that these materials frequently oppose key U.S. interests, discuss U.S. policies in a biased manner, and distort or ignore U.S. positions at the United Nati ons.

In theory, DPI, which is a part of the U.N. Secretariat, has the responsibility Itto promote to the greatest possible extent an informed understanding of the work and purposes of the United Nations among the peoples of the Assembly specifically prohib its it from engaging in I'propaganda.

Yet the GAO report finds that the DPI is indeed producing propaganda that is distressingly anti-American finding, since DPI publications and broadcasts are regarded as especially in the more than 100 developing countr ies anti-American barrage thus directly undermines U.S. interests abroad.

To make matters worse--and more galling--the U.S supporter of DPI, paying for 25 percent of its total budget Its 1946 Mandate from the U.N. General This is,an extremely serious cred ibIe sources of information in most of the world's nations The DPI s is the most generous 1. General Assembly Resolution 13(I), February 13, 1946 2. Ibid.

The 53-page GAO Report, entitled IIAnalysis of Selected Media Products Shows Half Oppose Key U.S. In terests,Il is notable for its restrained tone and sound methodology in selecting representative information materials and made every effort to insure that the results of its analysis would be authoritative, i.e., that other well-informed, impartial raters would reach very similar conclusions about the materials in the study.

Similarly, the team members did not include those publications and broadcasts whose degree of opposition to U.S. interests they did not agree on in their statistical analysis.

The GAO gives the DPI the benefit of the doubt at every opportunity, taking note of the Under-Secretary General for Public Information's statements and directives on the need for press neutrality, emphasizing the cooperation of DPI officials, and several times m e ntioning that the U.S. is in a minority position on a number of the political issues on which DPI reported. Furthermore, other important questions about DPI, such as whether the Department really needs a staff of 162 professionals, were not considered of t he Report, though, are all the more powerful because of the GAO'S scrupulously balanced attitude The GAO team took great care The findings Conclude the investigators We found that a substantial number of the media items opposed U.S. interests because they took political positions unfavorable to U.S. interests and/or contained indications of bias against the United States included language which biased discussions against the United States, coverage of arguments for only one side of important political issu e s for some media items, and imbalanced presentation of material in DPIIs Radio Persnective program Indications of bias METHODOLOGY The Report, requested by Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, was prepared over a'period of nine months by a t eam of GAO auditors. Their research is based on DPI documents obtained from U.N Headquarters in New York and the U.N. Information Centerdn Washington, as well as on interviews with officials of DPI, the State Department, and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. T o insure the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the Report, a total of 90 Ilmedia piecesav produced between late 1983 and August 1985 were selected for analysis which the GAO concluded have 'Iwide dissemination or impact" and/or were most likely to contain i nterpretative data": free DPI publications; transcripts of Radio Perspective, the most widely distributed U.N. taped radio program; transcripts of World Chronicle, the principal DPI television production Perspective1 features from U.N. Chronicle, DPI's ma in periodical; and summaries They represented five distinct types of media activity 2of briefings given at the U.N. to representatives of several hundred nongovernmental organizations.

All of the selected broadcasts and publications dealt d irectly with one of four issues chosen by the State Department from a list of 11 Inpriority areas which the General Assembly identified for the focus of public information activitiesll: anartheid, disarmament, new world orders (New International Economic O rder, New World Information and Communication Order, and the Law of the Sea), and "the question of Palestineon The Department chose the first three issues nbased on their importance to U.S. interests and the need to have related U.S positions fairly prese nted and included Inthe question of Palestinell because of Specter's specific interest in DPIIs treatment of Israel.

The State Department 'then Ilprovided criteria defining what political positions would be considered contrary to current U.S policies and/o r interests for the four topic areas.Il question of Palestine, for example, State's guidelines urged the GAO to consider as contrary to U.S. policies and/or interests statements which 'Ichallenge Israel's right to exist.18 On materials relating to the New World Information and Communication Order, the State Department advised that statements which "advocate a policy of government control over the content of media comunicationsll would be contrary to the U.S. position On the so-called Three GAO evaluators c a refully analyzed the texts of the 90 broadcasts and publications, guided not only by the State Department criteria but also by a detailed and pretested set of GAO evaluation determine whether its political positions supported, opposed, were neutral toward , or unrelated to U.S. policies and/or interests and second, to determine bias for or against the U.S. by identifying emotional language, language emphasis, and imbalanced comparisons of the United States and other nations.11 Emotional language included th e use of terms like Ilracist, llimpsrialist, and "barbaric, which would clearly prejudice any discussion of an issue guidelines. Each paragraph of every text was rated, first to Each evaluator rated each item, using a seven-point scale ranging from Wery op p osed" to U.S. policies and/or interests (1) to Wery supportivell of them (7 The basis for these ratings were the Itproportion of paragraph text determined to be favorable or unfavorable,lI Itincidence of statements containing bias for or against the Unite d States relative prominence of favorable and unfavorable text within the media piece," and "balance of coverage for major arguments on both sides of the political issues disc~ssed Finally, the raters agreed on their scoring 87 percent of the time, a very h igh rate. The GAO is therefore confident that other well-informed raters analyzing the same materials would reach very similar conclusions 3PRINCIPAL FINDINGS Information. Of the 79 items on which all of the raters fully agreed 38 were neutral or balanced , while a majority of 40 opposed U.S interests and policies. One item supported U.S. interests. While the 40 that opposed U.S. interests showed a relatively even degree of opposition (15 slightly opposed 15 moderately opposed, and 10 very opposed the lone i tem supporting U.S. interests did so only slightly The results of the study firmly indict the Department of Public I DPI coverage of the Ilquestion of Palestinell and apartheid was particularly unfavorable to U.S. interests. This is particularly I damagin g considering the volume of media items DPI produces on these I subjects. Out of 79 items, 9 of 11 items on the Itquestion of Palestinet1 and 17 of 26 items on apartheid opposed U.S. interests.

Two-thirds of the unfavorable items, moreover, were rated mode rately to very opposed, while none were supportive of U.S. interests to any degree with none supportive, and 6 of 16 new world orders items were similarly opposed I Seven of 26 disarmament items were opposed to U.S. interests I Typical of this intense opp osition to U.S. interests is a publication on aBartheia--a Background Paper from the Second World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination-published by DPI in June 19

83. The'paper is clearly an excerpt from a study by Aureliu Cristescu, the R omanian Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, but is prominently labeled "United Nations Department of Public Informati~n The paper which purports to b e a study of the right to self-determination states that While colonialism, in the traditional sense, is nearing its end, imperialism and the policy of force and diktat continue to exist and may persist in the future, under the guise of neo-colonialism and power relationships exploitation by colonialist forces os the difficulties and problems confronting developing or recently liberated countries, interference in the internal affairs of those States and attempts to maintain, especially in the economic secto r , a relationship based on inequality are serious threats to the new States interference, racial discrimination, subversion and The Economic pressure and domination 4- cli.l intervention and the threat of force, are neo-colonialist devicess against which t he newly independent states must guard.

Though this is an accurate analysis of Soviet foreign policy goals, its target is clearly the West--llcolonialist forces" are multinational corporations, for example, and llrecently liberated countries,I1 likewise, i nclude Nicaragua, but not Grenada. The fact however, that this paragraph (and the entire document, for that matter) could have been lifted verbatim from any Soviet propaganda text seems not to have troubled DPI or prevented its distribution as a United Na t ions document for which the U.S. pays the lion's share an indication of GAOls fairness, it rated this report as only lfmoderately opposedv1 to U..S interests As In its paragraph by paragraph analysis, GAO found that, of all textual materials related to U. S . interests, almost 45 percent were unfavorable to those interests, while roughly 11 percent were supportive, with the balance neutral. The Report notes that llsome items, however, contained a higher concentration of unfavorable text than was average,Iu i n cluding 8 media items with 40 to 85 percent of the text rated as opposed to U.S. interests.Il On the topic of the Middle East, virtually all U.N. documents contained high incidences of unfavorable text, testifying once again to the U.N.Is relentless campa i gn against Israel. Example: the IIProgramme of Action for the Achievement of Palestinian Rights adopted by the International Conference on the Question of Palestine in 1983 and published by DPI urges all U.N. members, among other things, to 9) Consider wa y s and means of meeting the threat that Israel poses to regional security in Africa in view of Israells disregard of United Nations resolutions, and its close collaboration with the aDarthei4 regime in the economic military and nuclear fields, thereby cont r ibuting to the continued illegal occupation of Namibia and enhancing the regime's repressive and aggressive capacity 10) Encourage, through bilateral and multilateral contacts, all States, including Western European and North American States which have no t yet done so, to welcome all peace initiatives based on the recognition of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, which were also welcomed by Chairman Yasser 3. DPI No. 768, 6/83 5- Arafat in his address fo the International Conference on the Q uestion of Palestine.

These recommendations have been disseminated worldwide under the Considering the large degree of opposition to U.S. interests aegis of the United Nations found in DPI materials, the GAO team extended their analysis and discovered that , while only 2.5 percent of the paragraphs contained outright bias of any kind, virtually all of it was directed against the United States. As bad, arguments supporting U.S. policies were given little or no coverage at all. Explains the GAO report: a grea t er proportion of the materials provided better or much better coverage for arguments opposed to U.S policy positions evaluator as covering arguments supporting U.S. positions better than those opposing them was three We found 11 cases (about 16 percent) w h ere only one side of the issues was presented and no arguments favoring the U.S. position were given at all The most items identified by any The primary cause of this pattern of opposition to U.S interests, then, is not so much flagrant bias as the extens i ve and favorable coverage given to arguments opposing U.S. positions virtually never presented with sufficient rebuttal The best example'of this phenomenon is the Declaration of the North American Regional Conference for Action against Apartheidd publishe d by DPI in its semi-annual review, Objective: Justice and included in the GAO study radio program, DPI sometimes presents lW.S. public figures opposing U.S. policies rather than featuring official U.S. delegations or sp~kesmen Dissident spokesmen from the Soviet bloc,Il said GAO were not featured in any of the items in our studyovV As the GAO notes of the U.N.Is taped Yet this also occurs in DPIIs publications, as the Objective DPI briefly reports on the Justice review makes abundantly clear.

Conference, w hich was held in June 1984 to consider the situation in Southern Africa and "the policies and actions of Canada and the United States with respect to the struggle for liberation in Southern Africa II and then publishes in full the Conference's Declaration , which includes excerpts from the speeches of Senator Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Professor Angela Davis, former Vice-Presidential candidate of the Communist Party of 4. DPI No. 803, 4/84 5. DPI No. 834, 12/84; Obie c tive: Just ice, Vol. XVI, no. 2 6- I._I I the United States. The text explicitly criticizes all of the policies of the United States and Canada in Southern Africa, openly advocates support for the'South-West Africa Peoples Organization and other terrorist groups and refers in thinly veiled terms to the desirability of popular action against the Reagan Administration in the (then upcoming) 1984 Presidential election. There is no coverage at all of any views supporting any element of U.S. policy and no indic ation that the views of the five Americans quoted (Kennedy, Jackson, Davis, Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, and Charles Yancey, a Boston City Councillor do not represent the full spectrum of U.S. political viewpoints.

THREE TRENDS The Reportls findings high light three particularly disturbing trends First, although all the documents analyzed were published by DPI and relied largely on DPI source material for the information and opinions expressed, other sources also were used in preparing broadcasts and publ i cations. These included U.N. General Assembly resolutions, statements and speeches by U.S., Soviet, and llnon-alignedll representatives and delegates, and programs of action and declarations from U.N. Conferences. The remarks by Soviet bloc representative s predictably were very unfavorable to U.S. interests.

But so were virtually all the other sources which DPI used in preparing these materials. States the GAO: IINon-aligned country spokesmen and reporters opposed U.S. interests 59 percent and 34 percent o f the time, respectively. About 54 percent of the text attributable to U.N. General Assembly resolutions and about 74 percent of the text attributable to programs of action and declarations from U.N. conferences opposed U.S. interests.I Even when DPI spok e smen themseltes discussed the U.S or issues important to U.S. interests, says the GAO report, "their statements were neutral about 53 percent of the time, opposed to U.S. interests about 44 percent of the time, and supportive of them about 3 percent of th e time.11 The fact that DPI broadcasts and publications frequently opposed U.S. interests, though certainly significant in and of itself, must nonetheless be viewed in the context of the U.N.Is broad, systemic anti-American and anti-Western bias.

Second, the format that received the liighest negative ratings in every respect is Radio Persnective, the taped U.N. radio program.

It is also the format over which DPI has the greatest editorial control. According to the GAO, DPI presents and arranges Ilselected bits of statements by member state delegates on issues under discussion in principal U.N. bodies" on the program, while !la DPI narrator provides commentary on these statements and links the various cuts in a logical format.nv This enables DPI %o select w hich speakers 7and statements it wishes to highlight in presenting a specific topic,I1 and has evidently been used to promote unbalanced and misleading discussions of key issues.

The GAO notes, in particular, that Ilstatements by Western spokesmen selected by DPI were in some cases too short and/or vague to adequately explain their views or policies,Il that llU.S. or Western explanations of policy were often given lesser prominence or sandwiched between large amounts of opposing discussion,Il and that IIIn two cases, the speakers selected to illustrate political positions were exclusively from the Soviet bloc and non-aligned Example: one Radio Persnective program involved a discussion of the prospects for a World Disarmament Conference and featured speakers from Sri Lanka, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.

Example: a program discussing the Law of the Sea Convention had speakers from Malta, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Although the U.N.Is television program, World Chronicle, is less openly biased, it if still distressingly unbalanced.

World Chronicle program, for instance, featured James Jonah, then Secretary General of the Second World Conference to Combat Racism and R acial Discrimination; a transcript of the program was subsequently reprinted in one of DPIIs magazines, Objective: Justice. In it Jonah starts by discussing racism in South Africa, but then cites instances of racism in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the IINordic Countries,l and %any Latin American countries.Il He mentions no instances of racial discrimination aginst non-Russians in the Soviet bloc, much less Afghanistan A 1983 Prompted by the DPI-appointed moderator, who characterizes the U.S. as a count r y with Ira major racial problem,Il Jonah states that the U.S The message this discussion conveys, as that of similar Radio Persnective programs: the U.S. and Israel are pariahs, petulantly defying world opinion and acting as accomplices in criminal and he gemonistic policies. The United States' strong anti-colonial stand and its achievements in civil rights are ignored.

Chronicle program situation. The guest, Mr. Shridath Ramphal, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, begins by speaking general ly about the debt crisis, and then attacks the International Monetary Fund, charging it I and Israel will not participate in the Conference because the I I 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism has not been repudiated.

The U.S. is Fhe target of ano tii .I' er attack ii a similar World dealing with the LnTernational economic 6. World Chronicle No. 140, 1/84; Obiective: Just ice, vol. XVI, No. 2, 12/84 7. World Chronicle, No. 157, 5/84 a-with llinsensitivityll and claiming that it is ''introducing, in fact more and more chaos" into the world economy. Michael Littlejohns, the DPI selected moderator, then queries Mr. Ramphal on the causes of the IMF's insensitivity Littleiohns: Is this a reflection of the attitude States, the Reagan Administration, at th i s time of the United Ramhal.: I'm afraid I must say, it seems to be very directly a reflection of that policy. And I say that with sadness, because a part of the integrity of the IMF, is that it should not follow the policy prescriptions of any single mem ber country no matter how powerful So the integrity of the Fund is under attack.

Littleiohns: So the United States is calling the shots in the IMF?

Ramha We know (emphasis DPI's) the United States is calling the shots and it is sad because this has not be en in the tradition of the United States which helped at Bretton Woods and after to build these institutions, because the United States believed in internationalism. It really did believe and at times sustained that belief when Europe was floundering and faltering.

The United States today, seems to be pursuing policies which are the very antithesis of internationalism.

Ramphal continues to state that "We talk about the Soviet Union and its satellites. We don't talk about Europe as a satellite of the Unite d States, but you know, quite a lot of the time it behaves in that way bloc's attitude toward the debt crisis, Mr. Ramphal concedes that the Soviets "have a very bad record of practical assistance to the third world,In but then notes that "They've helped l iberation movements movements that have been pursuing just struggles with arms. And that has been a help and a contribution.Il Marxist insurgencies and pouring billions of dollars. into development assistance, the attacks on U.S. policy and the integrity o f the U.S commitment to global economic development--all these factors combine to once again paint the U.S. as a villain on the international scene Asked by a New York Times reporter about the Eastern This equation between arming The third and most signif i cant trend cited by GAO is the Ilmultiplier effect" of the worldwide distribution of DPI products on world public opinion. The GAO notes that 'Ithe worldwide dissemination of DPI materials through the high-impact media of radio, television and the press a mplifies the effect these materials may have on world understanding of events and issues before the United Nations." Indeed DPI publishes and distributes over two million documents annually issues two periodicals and coordinates the activities of 66 U.N.

I nformation Centers worldwide; broadcasts over 3,000 hours of radio programs annually in 25 languages to 167 countries (all currently suspended pending leasing renegotiation of facilities from the Voice 9-of America) and distributes 110,000 taped programs t o radio stations worldwide; provides press services to almost 300 print and electronic media correspondents from 45 countries; produces 1,000 television news packages annually; sponsors or helps produce as many as 10 original films every year and regularl y disseminates more than 150 U.N. films annually through information centers.

Although the cumulative impact of these activities is difficult to quantify, it is undeniable that the U.N. plays a major role in the development of world public opinion, especia lly in the Less Developed Countries. Notes Singapore's Ambassador to the U.S. Tommy Koh formerly his countryls representative at the United Nations If you were in Asia or Africa or Latin America 15 years ago and you asked people about the Palestinians, ev e ryone looked puzzled. Today, students, intellectuals, and political activists in every country know about the Palestinian cause and sympathize with it largely of the U.N importance of the U.N. in altering perceptions That's the result People are always un deresttmating the DPIIs "public informationll mandate, thus is a significant and powerful one. As such, the fact that U.S. views do not get a fair hearing in DPI media products should be a matter of serious concern.

Furthermore, though the causes of worldw ide anti-Americanism are surely complex, the role that DPI may play in encouraging such an attitude should not be overlooked DPI RESPONSE TO THE GAO REPORT On April 21, three days after the GAO report was released, DPI issued a public response, which purp o rts to expose the GAOIs errors and inconsistencies take the GAOIs criticisms in a constructive spirit: it is.astonishing that DPI would attack the accuracy of the widely respected GAO It is unfortunate that DPI flatly refused to In its response, DPI claim s that 1) The documents analyzed were ones over which DPI had little editorial control, and thus reflected only the mandates of the U.N.

Committee on Information 8. See Roger A. Brooks, "The U.N. Department of Public Information: A House of Mirrors,"

Heri tage Foundation Backnroundet No. 332, February 23, 1984 9. The New York Timeg Magazine, September 16, 1984, p. 62 10 It is true that DPI is guided by the public information mandates of the Committee on Information, where Western countries are in a tiny mi n ority documents over which it has little or no editorial control. It is also true that DPI reprints and distributes many Yet this overlooks the crucial point that the most biased media type--Radio Perspective-was the one over which DPI exercises the great est control. DPI chooses the speakers, format, and subjects As a result of DPIIs'extensive control, the discussion of the issues is often very unbalanced editorial control over its magazines, television program, and briefing summaries.

Furthermore, though DPI, as a part of the U.N. Secretariat, is guided by the directives of the U.N.Is Member States, William C Sherman, former Deputy U.S. Representative to the Security Council has perceptively noted that "The Secretariat does what the member states ask it t o do. On the other hand, there are always ways for the Secretariat to operate to insure that the member states ask it to do the right things.111o The fact, therefore, that DPI is in some instances responding to politicized mandates and/or reproducing the b iases of other departments or the U.N. generally (a fact which the GAO noted), cannot adequately explain the persistent and pervasive opposition to U.S. interests in these media types unrepresentative sample The Department also has a good degree of 2) The documents selected for GAO analysis, argues DPI, were an GAO chose samples from a range of different media on the specific grounds that they were likely to be widely distributed or were broadcasts and publications over which DPI had substantial editorial control. the four subject areas selected by the State Department. Furthermore the GAO included in the Report all 72 media items which DPI produced between January 1984 and August 1985 on the selected.subjects in the five media categories.

The fact that the GAO did not analyze such general interest publications as EVewonels Uni ted Nations has no bearing on the GAOIs conclusions, since such publications were unlikely to contain any interpretative data confirming or denying charges of bias and opposition to American policies and positions The GAO carefully chose documents that directly addressed This is hardly an unrepresentative sample 10. As quoted in Linda M Fasulo, ed., Rem esenting America: Exoeriences of U.S.

Didomats at t he U.N. (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1984 p. 297 11 - 3) The subjects chosen, says DPI, prejudged the result.

The U.S is indeed in the minority in the General Assembly and other U.N. bodies on aDarthei4, the ''Question of Palestine,mn new world orders, and to a lesser extent, disarm ament. But it is precisely for this reason that it is critical that U.S. positions be fairly presented. As for-the GAO ignoring DPI media products dealing with Afghanistan and Kampuchea, these issues were not identified by the General Assembly for a focus of public information activities, as the other subjects were. Consequently, there is a very limited selection of materials on these subjects prepared by DPI subjects, moreover, are not discussed at practically every session of every U.N. body, agency, and conference, as are the other subjects.

Nor does DPI produce and distribute massive amounts of materials on Afghanistan and Kampuchea, as they do on the other issues These 4) Multilateral information activities cannot be judged maintains DPI, by any Itnarrowly defined" national interest.

The U.S. of course does not and cannot expect the U.N. Department of Public Information to serve as a mouthpiece for its views and policies. What the U.S. (and every other U.N. member) can expect though, is that these view s and policies are represented accurately and fairly. In the case of the U.S. they clearly have not been. To state, as DPI does, that it can never satisfy all U.N. members is disingenuous and overlooks one of the most interesting findings of the GAO repor t: that the U.N. Department for Disarmament Affairs publications were ''notably neutral and present conflicting U.S. and Soviet views in a generally unbiased and balanced manner.

Department, which handles a highly complex, contentious and emotional issue, can achieve a high degree of professionalism and objectivity in its publications, so should DPI If this The GAO report recommends that The Secretary of State develop a review process to better monitor selected U.N. public information materials.lg However, as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Alan L. Keyes noted in his comments on the GAO report, this would be extraordinarily difficult and time consuming for State Department officials and staffers at the U.S.

Mission to the U.N., considering the huge volume of materials that DPI produces that DPI were removing the anti-American bias from its products.

State Department should set deadlines for this It would be worth the effort only if intended to verify The In the meantime, the U.S. vigorously should protest this bias at the next meeting of the Committee on Information, which begins June 12 15.

State Department's deadlines or refuses to do so, the Reagan Administration and Congress should initiate two policies publications a nd broadcasts; and If DPI fails to respond to American concerns and does not meet the 1) publicize the fact that DPI is biased and counter the bias in 2) halt U.S. funding of DPI's budget, which for the 1986-1987 biennium is roughly $75.7 million. Of this , the U.S. pays 25 percent or approximately $19 million AS Senator Specter stated in a recent letter to Secretary of State George Shultz: "The GAO study has clearly shown that our interests are not being furthered by DPI and I strongly urge.that all U.S. f u nding for this program be withheld until DPI produces unbiased and fair materials that do not undercut our vital interests.Il It is quite simply too much to ask the American taxpayer to bear the double burden of paying to have the U.S. and its positions a nd policies misrepresented before the world.

Thomas E.L. Dewey Policy Analyst 13


Thomas L.