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Changing Audience and Cultural Sensitivity

Changing audience

Media inside the General Assembly Hall during the opening of the 67th General Debate Media inside the General Assembly Hall during the opening of the 67th General Debate

During the General Debate (and at the closing session) of the General Assembly, the eyes of the world are on the Heads of State or other leading representatives of a Member State. The world media is present (and the Department of Public Information streams the proceedings on the Internet). In addition, there may be an extensive presence of observers from non-governmental organizations, who will also report via their own channels. A hard copy version of the General Debate statement is also distributed. Speakers are therefore addressing several audiences at once, who may receive their message through a number of channels both direct and indirect.

Speakers during the General Debate must consider what their statement will convey to each of these audiences. It is partly because of the delicacy of this balancing act that General Debate statements are often carefully drafted. Prominent international meetings like the General Debate at the General Assembly are important platforms used by governments to communicate to their own populations that they are respected by other governments, engaged in noble causes, supportive of national interests and principles and constrained by external factors beyond their control from delivering to their people everything the people might wish.

The inevitable consequence is that some of the time will be devoted to addressing a speaker's domestic audience and other audiences of special interest to his or her government, but of less interest to the meeting.

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, addresses the Second Committee at the opening of the Committee's General Debate
USG for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, addresses the Second Committee at the opening of the Committee's General Debate

As the GA session moves beyond the General Debate, the intensity of media coverage declines sharply. When it moves to committee stage, the public and observers are often excluded or at least their numbers are much reduced. When discussion and negotiation move to the corridors and back rooms, there is no public record and the only ‘ears’ are those of the participants in that particular encounter. Through this progression, the audience delegates are effectively addressing narrows considerably.

Yet, even when the public and other external audiences are no longer prominent, delegates are still not drafting their remarks for a uniform audience. For example, in the course of a negotiation, whatever one delegations says will be heard simultaneously by those delegations that share their views, by those that hold opposite views and by the undecided. As a consequence, delegations need to consider the effect of their comments on the following three questions:
  • Will it encourage those whose views are supportive of their views to maintain their support and confidence?
  • Will it help win over the undecided?
  • Will it deter, discourage or win over those who are promoting different views?
MUN delegates must also take into consideration the audiences they are addressing and the impact their statements will have on negotiations with other delegates.

Cultural sensitivities

Delegates representing their countries at UN meetings must never forget that they come from very different cultures. Many things which are part of normal exchanges in their national culture may be out of place at an international conference, invite misunderstanding and give unintended offence.

At MUN simulations delegates are representing countries that they may be unfamiliar with. One of the benefits of participating in a MUN simulation is the exposure it provides to other cultures and the opportunity it provides to meet and become friends with students from other countries. This experience will hopefully lead to a greater awareness of cultural sensitivities.