2.4: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MONUSCO VIDEO UNIT:
These items are based on written recommendations developed with my MDP coach after the MDP IN 2011. I submitted most of them to former Director PID George Ola-Davies, and they were all ignored. However, I am convinced that they all remain viable and relevant.
- KENNEDY SOP FOR VIDEO UNIT REGION EAST SHOULD BE RE-INSTITUTED
- DIRECTOR PID SHOULD HAVE MONTHLY EDITORIAL MEETINGS WITH CHIEF, VIDEO
- SHARING OF REPORTERS WITH RADIO OKAPI SHOULD BE ENABLED
- FUNDS FOR A DEDICATED LINE FOR FTP SHOULD BE RELEASED BY PID
- VIDEO CHIEF SHOULD BE IN LOOP FOR ALL VIDEO RECRUITMENT
2.5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DPKO/DFS AND OTHER MISSIONS:
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE :
While most pundits and media experts recognize we live in a Digital Age, and are in the midst of a Digital Revolution which is changing our lives in more ways than we can be aware of, the United Nations remains mired in the Age of Print, almost a century behind the modern world.
Since the UN is, as noted elsewhere, a political organization, this emphasis on print and words is understandable. After all, nations have gone to war over differing interpretations of words in treaties. However, this focus on words makes the UN often blind to the power of images, and keeps the UN way behind the curve when it comes to contemporary multimedia communications. In DPKO missions I am familiar with , the Spokesperson sometimes doubles as Director. P.I.D. and this has resulted in a PID stunted by a regressive emphasis on what I call the UN damage-control school of Public Information. The main tenet of the damage-control school is that all criticisms , no matter how inane, must be rebutted,; corollary #2 is that the worst thing one can do is to make a mistake, and that, therefore, all texts need to be thoroughly vetted and revised, as often as needed.
In terms of video, this means the safest way to deal with any subject is to: a) Have a thoroughly vetted narration; or b): to show a VIP soundbite, since the VIP can then take the blame if something goes wrong – and he or she will be happy to be seen on camera, which is money in the bank for the Director, P.I.D.
However, regardless of political leanings, successful professional practitioners of propaganda and mass marketing from Josef Goebbels to Gene Lakoff are in complete agreement that images are far more powerful than words, and the billions upon billions of dollars spent on corporate branding and political campaigns are tangible proof: a picture is worth a thousand words, and that therefore images, not words, are the way to people’s hearts, and that, above all, one should never be boring.
In direct contrast, the deadly secret of the UN damage -control school of Public Information is that being boring is not necessarily such a bad thing, just so long as the boss is happy. Indeed, if the program is boring, fewer people will watch it and there is less of a chance something can go wrong. And, as I experienced first hand working with SG Kurt Waldheim, who is going to tell the boss he is boring? \
People who understand communications are first and foremost good listeners and good managers, ready to understand their intended audience and to seek ways to touch their hearts.
Directors of P.I.D, first and foremost, need to be acquainted with modern communications theory.
It also helps if they have some knowledge of media production management, as well as experience in managing the creative talent actually doing the work on the ground.
Since good spokespersons are primarily performers who can deftly articulate the party Line, they are rarely also good listeners or innovative managers. Accordingly, the Spokesperson and the Director PID should be different people, if at all possible, since there are very few individuals possessing both the ability to be a good performer and a good listener.
PART III: PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS
Personally, as a film and video producer with several decades of international experience both inside and outside the United Nations system, I found my experience as Chief, Video Unit to be both rewarding and fulfilling. To be sure, there were challenges, but this is normal in every professional situation. What was most meaningful to me was that I was given the opportunity to do some quality work – work that I am proud of, and that should be useful to my colleagues in future peacekeeping missions.
In this regard, the genesis of our signature program, MONUC REALITES, is a good example. When we created MONUC REALITES in 2008, we were under intense indirect pressure from Kevin Kennedy to create something modern and up-to-date that would promote the mission mandate to the Congolese population. We knew that we had to produce something radically different from LA SEMAINE EN BREF, but we had to navigate our way through a series of false starts before we got it right.
For example, SRSG Doss was in love with speed, and wanted everything to be as real-time as possible.
He was oblivious to the fact that we were in a country where everything ran late, and where the technical infrastructure was a few decades behind the Western world. For example, shortly after he arrived, he demanded a live telecast of his first Town Hall meeting broadcast to all the sectors – an order so far-fetched that we could only shake our heads in amazement. Eventually, CITS , afraid to tell him that what he was asking was completely impossible, foolishly tried to compromise with a live audio transmission to the sectors that was a complete disaster . The feedback from the speakers was so loud that every word was unintelligible across the country, the sole exception being our Video audio feed coming from our
ace sound engineer Georges Dominique’s lapel microphone.
So, when it came to our new program, SRSG Doss initially wanted a daily video response to some item in the DRC news that had irked him, and, incredibly enough, he wanted that response embedded in the local DRC news shows. This proved to be a non-starter when the Congolese TV stations simply refused to allow it. This was a blessing, because we longed to do a real program, rather knee-jerk reactions. It was also my feeling that many of the wild accusations about us in the DRC media were best ignored, and the dignifying them with a response would give them more credibility than they deserved
Both my senior video producer Carlo Ontal and I agreed that a pro-active approach showing Congolese inter-acting with MONUC staff in the field would be far more interesting television, and far more effective.
Fortunately, Kevin Kennedy had the same mind-set, though he also wanted a news segment with up-to-date MONUC news from the weekly press conference and other sources.
After several demos, we managed to create a video magazine format that combined both a news segment and a feature story – with the news story the lead, but a vignette intro at the top as a tease for the feature story. The thinking behind this was simple. We expected the audience to be intrigued by the feature story, but we also wanted them to watch the news items, so they had to see the news before they could see the feature story.
I first learned this trick years ago when I was in India studying the Indian film industry. The Films Divison of the Indian government was the world’s largest producer of informational films at the time, and they forced all commercial movie theatres to show (and pay for!) their films as shorts prior to the main feature.
The Indian Institute of Mass Communications did studies on the Films Division products, and, much to their dismay, they found that it was difficult indeed to get people to watch the films unless they were sandwiched between popular commercial features.
We then had to find a way to generate feature stories on a regular basis so we would never run dry.
The newly created Video Unit Region East ,led by producer Carlo Ontal, and editor Titus Nyukuri, was given the task of shooting feature stories around the East, while Kinshasa-based director Alan Brain would shoot material around the West. Every month, Carlo would come up with story ideas that we would fine tune in conference calls with Kevin Kennedy, and then he would go on the road with Titus and our reporter Horeb Bulambo and shoot 3 or 4 stories per trip. Titus would do a rough cut in the field, and then send the stories to Kinshasa by hand, as described previously.
Meanwhile, our national staff cameraman Serge Kasanga and Daniel Wangisha would cover news stories in the field and in Goma and Kinshasa as needed. Back in Kinshasa, every Monday, head writer Ado Abdou would finish a script and send it to me. I would do a rewrite, and send to the Director for approval, and then send it to the Presenter on Tuesday night. We would then shoot the presentation on Wednesday, and editors Meriton Ahmeti and Kevin Jordan would finish the program on Thursday afternoon so I could then submit it for final approval by the Director, so we could distribute to the TV stations by the weekend.
With this workflow, we were able to produce over 120 programs between 2008- 2010, barely ever missing a week, and maintaining a consistency of quality. In this regard, special credit must go to our brilliant graphic designer Meriton Ahmeti, who gave the show a production value that was unlike anything the Congolese had ever seen, and therefore aroused great visual interest. The Congolese TV stations paid us the supreme compliment of showing the program in prime time without charging an extra fee, and we received direct accolades from both Information Minister Lambert Mende and First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila, and we never had a complaint of any kind from our target audience, the Congolese .
Our only detractors consisted of the Spokesperson and his cronies, for reasons known only to them.
As far as I am concerned, MONUC REALITES was a mission well accomplished, and I am very proud to have been part of this team effort. It is my sincere hope that this program serves as a point of departure for future video programs by other DPKO missions. For the immediate future, I shall be writing a doctoral thesis on digital documentary for Sweden’s University of Lund, and my old school, Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, has offered a position in 2013 in their newly created Film Department as a Professor of Documentary Film.
I feel indeed fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work on Peacekeeping missions, and I am open to the possibility of a consultancy in the future., though preferably not with MONUSCO, for reasons which will become evident in Part IV, Come what may, I shall always be more than happy to share my experiences and whatever I have learned with DPKO colleagues in the future. For me, this has been both an honor and a privilege.