Nearly three months after Cristina Gallach of Spain vacated her post as head of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI), Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed Alison Smale of the United Kingdom as her successor with the designation Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications.
Smale is the first head of DPI, since it was established in 1946, who comes from a country that along with China, France, Russia, and USA, is one of the five veto-wielding permanent (P5) members of the Security Council.
DPI maintains offices in 63 locations worldwide and is responsible for promoting global awareness and understanding of the work of the United Nations.
Announcing her appointment on August 9, Guterres said: Smale brings to the position almost 40-years of journalism experience gained in an international career that has included holding some of the most prestigious posts in the profession. She has been Chief of Bureau of The New York Times in Berlin since 2013.
Gallach – who headed the DPI from December 4, 2014 to March 31, 2017 – and all her predecessors in the job, were from outside the P5 gamut. Many also had experience as senior government officials back home, and some worked also at international organisations.
They included Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal of Austria who succeeded Akasaka Kiyotaka of Japan in 2012. He replaced Shashi Tharoor of India who was also a candidate for Secretary-General in 2006 and retired from the UN at the end of his contract in February.
Tharoor replaced Kensaku Hogen of Japan (1998-2001) who succeeded Samir Sanbar of Lebanon (1993-1998). His predecessors were: Marco Vianello-Chiodo of Italy (1993); Eugeniusz Wyzner of Poland (1992); Therese Paquet-Sevigny of Canada (1987-1991); Yasushi Akashi of Japan (1979-1986); Genichi Akatani of Japan (1972-1978); Agha Abdul Hamid of Pakistan (1968-1971); Jose Rolz-Bennett of Guatemala (1965-1967); Hernane Tavares de Sa of Brazil (1960-1964); Alfred G. Katzin of South Africa (Acting 1958-1960); Ahmed S. Bokhari of Pakistan (1955-1958); and Benjamin A. Cohen of Chile (1946-1954).
Guterres said he was grateful for Gallach's "commitment and dedicated service to the Organization." He also extended his "appreciation to Maher Nasser" from Palestine who has been serving as Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications since April 1, 2017, and will continue to do so up until Smale joins.
Keen observers of the UN have noticed that every time the post of the DPI chief falls vacant, Nasser is asked to fill in – as from April 1, 2012 to August 13, 2012, and from August 14, 2014 to March 31, 2015 – and never appointed as successor in complete charge. And this despite the fact that he has more than 29 years of work experience in the United Nations System, most of which has been in the field of communications, advocacy and public information.
He has served in various capacities with DPI, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, Cairo, Vienna and New York.
Starting in 2011, Nasser served as Director of DPI’s Outreach Division. He joined DPI in 2006 as Director of the UN Information Centre in Cairo and then served as Director of the UN Information Service in Vienna from 2008 to 2011.
While announcing the appointment, Guterres said: Smale "has a proven track record as reporter, editor and senior leader. Appointed Executive Editor of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) Paris, in 2008, she is the first and only woman to have held that post."
Smale went to the IHT in 2004 as Managing Editor from The New York Times, where she had been Deputy Foreign Editor since 2002, having joined The Times in 1998 as Weekend Foreign Editor.
Earlier, Smale reported for United Press International and The Associated Press as Bureau Chief for Central and Eastern Europe, Vienna (1986-1998) and Correspondent, Moscow and the then West German capital Bonn (1983-1986, 1978-1983).
Smale studied in Bristol, Munich and at the Stanford University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in German and Politics, and an Master of Arts in Journalism. In 2009 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Bristol University.
The British newspaper, The Independent, in an article about the IHT's redesign in April 2009, which Smale oversaw, called her "the most powerful British female editor overseas."
Like her predecessors, Smale leads DPI under the authority of the Secretary-General. The Department reports annually on its work to the UN General Assembly's Committee on Information.
She is "responsible for creating and implementing the United Nations’ global communications strategy to ensure the work of the Organization is responsibly, meaningfully and powerfully communicated to global audiences in multiple languages."
She is tasked to ensure that DPI’s platforms, distribution tools and outreach capabilities are designed to have the strongest possible impact with the broadest possible audience. Her job is to lead efforts to build and coordinate messaging and content from the UN system around the world, shining a spotlight on situations of importance and ensuring recognition of the UN’s impact in serving people and working for development, peace and human rights.
The Secretary-General chose Smale applying the following criteria: as a recognized leader in strategic communications and media; for her track-record in managing large media organizations/operations; experience in transforming teams, preferably international, and in bringing about meaningful reform; and deep knowledge of digital media environment and its integration into a global communications strategy.
"It remains to be seen how she would develop strategic media partnerships, looking beyond the Western mainstream media," remarked an Asian diplomat who did not wish to be named.
Smale is also expected to lead global campaigns, for example those related to the Sustainable Development Goals and evidence "profound knowledge of global affairs and the United Nations, and high commitment to the values and guiding principles of the UN and familiarity with the UN system, including peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian and development settings and challenges," as her job description states.
Long time observers of the UN said, she would do well to regard Shashi Tharoor as her role model in some respects. He had since January 2001 been serving as Interim Head of the DPI at the Assistant-Secretary-General level and was confirmed as Under-Secretary-General in May 2002.