This is session 5 of the Witness Seminar, The heartbeat of a modern Commonwealth? The Commonwealth Secretariat 1965-2013 which took place at Marlborough House, London, on 24th June, 2013.
Session participants: (click here for participant biographies)
CD: Cheryl Dorrall / DI: Derek Ingram / PMU: Philip Murphy / PR: Patsy Robertson / PW: Peter Williams / RJ: Rupert Jones-Perry / RU: Richard Uku
PMU: We’ll go on until 18:00. We’ll keep the concluding remarks to a minimum to maximise the time we have for this session. We were talking in the previous session about the Commonwealth getting its message across and appropriately, to end, we’ve got two masters of communication here who are both very well-known to you. Patsy Robertson, who joined the Secretariat at its birth in 1965, was Deputy Director of the Information Division between 1977-1989 and Director from 1989-1993; and Cheryl Dorall, who’s Deputy Director of Information here at the Secretariat from 1989-2001. So, I’m going to ask Patsy to lead off with some general remarks.
PR: Thank you, Phillip. Let me begin by giving you the picture of the world when the Secretariat began in 1965. Countries were just coming into independence. The Commonwealth was changing. Countries which had become independent, India, right up to 1962 when Caribbean countries came, Tanzania. There was a shift in the Commonwealth. Now you had countries which were determined to do something about racism in the Commonwealth. They were determined that racism which had characterised the empire should not continue and so they came ready for a fight. That is why these countries, and I mentioned earlier on, mainly Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago said, “We simply must have our own Secretariat. We simply cannot have Foreign and Commonwealth Office managing the Commonwealth anymore.” So, at the Heads of Government Meeting in 1962-4, when they worried about how to set up this Secretariat and finally in 1965 they set it up. Arnold Smith was appointed with the full support of Canada, which had thrown in its lot with the developing countries. In their Memorandum of Understanding there was no mention of an Information Programme for the Secretariat and in their discussions they said that the Secretary-General should rely on High Commissions to help him with information activities. Well, what happened was, there was a lot of interest in whole new Commonwealth and this new Secretariat and Arnold Smith was quite a jolly, charismatic Canadian of, I must mention, Caribbean extraction and he spent July and August answering questions, “How do you see your job?” etc. and then of course disaster struck. India and Pakistan went to war and Malaysia divorced Singapore.
So, there was this man, and his first two months. He sat at his desk speaking to the international media and he was really becoming quite upset about it. Well, I had been the Director of Information in the Jamaican High Commission. We had made good contacts with the British and other media. It was on the advice that he asked me if I’d come and work with him, so I joined in November 1965. There was the perception that the Secretariat would not become very active right at the beginning but of course, Rhodesia [blew up]. We went to Lagos for the January 1966 Heads of Government Meeting. There were only about 10-15 of us. There was not much staff in the Secretariat. Somebody mentioned, I think it was Peter Marshall, that his office was the British office. When I joined the Secretariat, my office was the Australian government, one of the grand offices. So, you could see we were very sparse. Anyhow, the Secretariat was given a lot of work to do. We set up a special group on Rhodesia, as it was then. Our main concern was Rhodesia. South Africa, by then, had left the Commonwealth. Because there was strong feeling that under no circumstances would the Commonwealth not take a very proactive role in getting the message across, I was then the Press Officer. There was no post in the Secretariat for a Press Officer but I was given the go-ahead, to speak freely to the media about what we are trying to do. That’s how it began and that’s how we continued.
Arnold Smith said to me, “Let us work to develop an Information Division.” We appointed an Australian to go around the Commonwealth talking to leaders and then he made a report. They looked at it in the 1969 meeting and then 1971 in Singapore. They appointed Tony Eggleton, who was the Press Officer to – Menzies was still around. We began the big struggle, which I won’t go into about facing up to Southern Africa but because there was such a strong feeling among governments that the Secretariat should get the message across, there was no question that in my role that I shouldn’t speak freely to the media. At that time the media was interested in the Commonwealth. At Heads of Government Meetings, we had 1,000 journalists from all over the world in those days. It was huge. So, we let them know exactly what we were doing. You could always deny it if it was published in the paper the following day. They would say you were misquoted. That’s very easy to do.
I suppose there was a certain amount of listening to telephone conversations, then, but we took the view that even if that happened, nobody would come out and say that, “We heard that you had given some secret information or talked about what had been discussed in the Heads of Government Meeting,” which were still confidential then. So, everybody leaked, in those days, shall I put it that way? Gradually, we built up an Information Division and our role was to continue to be quite aggressive in spreading the message of the Commonwealth wish to end racism in Southern Africa. There were other things like the whole development of the Secretariat, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation. All that work was very interesting. Now, I just want to say, pay tribute to Derek Ingram, because Derek began a thing called Gemini News Service. Derek was then the Deputy-Editor of the Daily Mail – we will not hold that against him. He left that role and he set up a wonderful news service which wrote articles which could be printed in newspapers all over the world, particularly in developing countries. He sent out graphic materials so that discussions at ministerial meetings, Derek managed to make them interesting.
We got a lot of publicity on that level as well. I remember Sonny Ramphal coming back from the Middle East where he saw in the local paper, I think he went to Kuwait or some such place. The little paper there, now of course much richer, was full of Gemini News Service articles and my role in the Secretariat at that time was to sponsor Derek and his few journalists and we took journalists to meetings because we had to keep journalists on our side and it wasn’t just journalists based in London. So, we brought journalists from the Caribbean, journalists from Africa, journalists from Asia to go to wherever Heads of Government Meetings where. Out of that came the Commonwealth Media Development Fund, which Malcolm Fraser, when he became Prime Minister of Australia thought it was a good idea and gave us £20,000, which was a lot of money in those days. So, we began training journalists etc. The entire picture, the entire atmosphere was quite different from how it is now. We had very close relationships with the media. It was not difficult to get a Fleet Street editor to come into Marlborough House to talk to the Secretary-General.
Before every Heads of Government Meeting, the Secretary-General went to their editorial board and discussed the whole agenda of the meeting. That was supposed to be secret, but that’s the only way you can deal with the media. Of course, in those days the Heads of Government Meetings was 6-7 days and journalists had a chance to write long, good stories, they always got the front pages. We had a thing called the Curtain Raiser the evening before when we told them exactly what was on the agenda of the meeting and gave them leads which they could follow up. They had access to leaders. I mean, there are lots of journalists who called heads, in those days, by their first name. It was a completely different atmosphere. That was what I think enabled the Commonwealth to maintain the controlling power in that big struggle in terms of the media and getting the message across, because we were up against some very skilful operators. We were based in London, so there was a steady stream of briefings which we had to counteract – which we did. The media then, they knew leaders; they were interested in what was happening, they were grateful because they were on the front pages. When the EPG went to South Africa that was a huge story. When Penguin published their report, written by Moni Malhoutra and Jeremy Pope, it was an international bestseller. So, that was the way in which we had built up this support and working very closely with the media in all countries of the Commonwealth, wherever we had a big meeting.
I used to go to Finance Ministers’ Meetings, I used to go Health- all the ministerial meetings, which were seen as crucial elements in this kind of matrix of Commonwealth relationships which made the Commonwealth different from any other international grouping. I remember telling people, “Health ministers consult, and they talk to each other,” which is true. They were doing what I think, now, NGOs are doing. The role of NGOs have now taken over to express what is perceived to be what is in the best interest of developing countries. At that time, it was the ministers at all levels, of all the disciplines, who were talking about what we need to develop hence CFTC, hence all the work which was done, the thinking. I’m afraid that died a death slowly. It’s going to be very difficult to replicate it because the Commonwealth is not seen to be doing anything in the headlines. Journalists, whom we have to rely on, they love to write stories, they love to be in their papers and I suppose in a way we were very lucky. We were in the right place at the right time. We had a great issue and I think we played the game very well indeed.
PMU: Thank you very much indeed. Cheryl, would you like to come in?
CD: Thank you, Philip. Cheryl Dorall. I was a newspaper editor in Malaysia and a senior editor in a regional magazine in Hong Kong before I joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in the middle of 1989. I was in complete awe of the Secretariat, or of the Commonwealth should I say, before I joined, its work and stance on Apartheid in particular but also of the illegal government in Rhodesia, which was very well known and were covered by local and regional newspaper in Asia. It’s absolutely true that the day I set foot in the office, my first day in July, I was in complete trepidation. Patsy did try and make me feel at home but there were stern faces all around and I was left in no doubt as to the work that was ahead. I remember at one point that I was talking, maybe 2-3 years later, I was talking to diplomats in a sort of induction course that they had for young diplomats in the UK and they asked me to describe the Commonwealth. It was beyond, at that point, describing it as a liberator, freedom-fighter, standing up for independence, so I said it’s like an amoeba. It depends on which side you look at it. It’s a different shape to different people. It’s pro-independence. It had its time preparing and then helping countries through independence. It had hands-on technical assistance. It’s a lead in economic thinking. Its innovative thinking in gender and youth programmes, you name it.
Yet, I think it was two years ago that Sonny Ramphal said in a Witness Seminar, I think it was at ICS, but was it two years ago when he agreed to a question that the identity of the Commonwealth was forced in its shape because of the fight against Apartheid. Of course, there was almost the sideshow of Zimbabwe and that particular fight because it was a liberation struggle. It’s no exaggeration that reporters were practically falling through the doors at the Commonwealth at that time. I wasn’t in the Commonwealth yet, but as a journalist looking at it from afar in Malaysia and in Hong Kong. If I had been in London, I would have been banging on Patsy’s door wanting to know what the story was. South Africa was a classic Good versus Evil story. It’s the sort of thing that the media loves. It was bad racist oppressors versus people struggling to be free or if you wanted to look at it from the other side, it was terrorists, communists, insurgents versus law and order, corrupt, terrorist insurgents being propped up by nasty Commonwealth. Whichever way you looked at it, it was headline-making stuff and I think I’m not wrong in saying that we attracted not only very professional journalists, we attracted people who were obviously sympathetic to the whole cause as such. We also attracted a brand of journalist who was completely unsympathetic to our cause. It’s all grist to the mill.
When Apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela was freed, Apartheid ended, down came the Berlin Wall, communism was rolled back and the media lost another Good vs. Evil story. That’s when I think the Commonwealth fairly, swiftly came on a slippery slope and became a non-story. It just kept moving downwards and downwards. Now, it dropped right down and it’s not like we lost our friends in the media. It wasn’t as if in the 90s people didn’t think that the Commonwealth somewhere along the way was doing good things. Yes, education, yes, health, but what they wanted was that story. The media loves that story. I’m only talking about media here. You could say in a way that the Commonwealth was a victim of its own success, almost. The Secretariat was also a little shy, I thought, about claiming that success. I remember once that I was ticked off rather loudly by a very senior officer in the Secretariat, I won’t mention names, for writing an article in one of our magazines, this is the Commonwealth Current. I don’t know if anyone remembers it. It was a bi-monthly magazine in which we were talking about what we had done in the Secretariat. This was after the 1994 election and the senior officer ticked me off, a British academic who was actually a very pro-Commonwealth person, had described the article as being vain-glorious. I was stunned because I thought I had underplayed it, to tell you the truth.
That’s why I thought we were very diffident sometimes. The time that we were at the greatest height of our achievement, I thought in many people’s terms, we were being very diffident. I know that they say we Asians are very diffident but I thought this was a bit ridiculous. The Commonwealth had put in so much in so many years. Overlooked by many people was the training that we put in, the conflict resolution between the ANC, the PAC, the Secretariat and Commonwealth experts had put a lot of time and effort into it. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t appreciated, but in media-terms, it wasn’t remembered for a long time. Suddenly, after 1994, everyone was talking about, well, not everyone, many people were talking about, especially the newspapers, how the Commonwealth didn’t have an international role. “Was it relevant? Why is it there? I mean, Apartheid is finished so what is it doing?” I suspect that some of this was fanned by government officials who were bitter after the long fights in their various corridors with the Secretariat and certain other governments over the Commonwealth’s views and actions on Apartheid, especially about sanctions. In fact, nearly 20 years after the end of Apartheid, I suspect that some of the bitterness still lingers on. I may be wrong. I may be paranoid.
In the mid-90s thereabout, the Secretariat very consciously started to arm itself with tools to counter this. We had two big information strategies. In 1991, the Harare CHOGM had passed and accepted an information strategy for sharpening the Commonwealth image. This was endorsed by governments. “It was aimed at opinion-makers, parliamentarians, NGOs, media students, young people. Harare wanted to focus on things other than Apartheid etc. geared to media relations etc.” The other big review was in 1996 when our good friend Derek Ingram was let loose on the Secretariat and in his review of publicity and information, quite astutely, he said, “It’s the joint responsibility of the Secretariat, NGOs and governments to publicise the Commonwealth.” He went on to say that the Commonwealth was owned by all, not just the Secretariat, not just governments but of the people. Of course the whole idea of having a pan-Commonwealth information thing like that, good as it was, it didn’t really fly. However, the Secretary decided to reach out and Stuart’s already spoken about how Chief Anyaoku reached out a lot more to the Commonwealth family, who were always welcome in Marlborough House. It was a great pulling together of people. There was the Commonwealth Day, materials for pushing out messages to schools, posters and it was surprisingly enough, very, very popular. There were teachers who used to call up and say, “Oh, you’ve got Commonwealth Day coming up, where’s my poster? Do you have any materials?” Etc. Now, this was largely in the UK but we did see it sometimes in the Caribbean, in Singapore, in Malaysia, probably in parts of India and in many, many other countries. There was a lot of interest in it. That’s gone, by the way, now, especially with the demise of Commonwealth Institute and there is less interest in it now from the RCS and I’m hoping the Commonwealth Secretariat will keep up its thing on the poster and the use of it in schools, which is very important.
Let me just jump very quickly to what Stephen Matlin said earlier about, and Richard Bourne said about non-publicity for Education and Health. These are highly important areas. I mean, the Commonwealth had a long, long, long history of working in these areas. The thing is, in media terms, this is not a sexy story. We did, not just us, but the divisions themselves, they got specialist magazines and there were a lot of articles etc. put in there. The mainstream media, particularly in the UK, is not really interested in that. They were still hooked on the whole Good vs. Evil sort of stuff. Developing countries’ news and media and also developed to the point where they were not really interested in education, health, gender, that sort of thing. They were really interested in political things largely because many of them were also battling in their own governments for space, for freedom of expression, freedom of the media etc. So, there was that problem there. So, try to counter this, Patsy, you started it when you were there but it accelerated under Mike Faber who took over from Patsy, the setting up of a publications section would be put in professional publications management of things like education publications, health publications, economic publications so that they wouldn’t be the sort of tatty little non-proof read house-printed on our little in-house printing press and then sent out to places like the World Health Organisation, World Bank etc. We used to come back and say, “This is a very nice publication but why does it look like this? It’s not even read properly and why are the statistics in the wrong place?”
So, that came on board somewhere in 1998 and I think I’m probably not wrong in saying that a lot of education, health and other publications went out through that, but there was hardly any possibility of getting it into the mainstream media, almost anywhere and this includes the student mobility which was very admirable as a project etc. There were a whole lot of other things, feature services, we had broadcasting services and at that time we had leaflets, books, information. We had press releases which at one time in the early 90s were very difficult to get out if you remember, Patsy? We weren’t allowed in our division to have a fax. So, we couldn’t fax things out. We had to send it to a central position somewhere here in Marlborough House where it was put under a pile, education faxes to ministers, health faxes to doctors etc. etc. So, press releases sometimes went out 48 hours later. This was swiftly, I think Patsy shouted at somebody and I think you shouted at the Secretary-General actually. I think yes, you got the fax, the next day we got the fax. The thing is, inside the Secretariat there was also a bit of diffidence about the press. I think there was a suspicion about the press. Maybe that’s too strong a word but there was certainly an element of ‘let’s keep the information within us’, not let it out.
Sometimes even we in the Press Office didn’t know what was going out so we didn’t even have the opportunity to evaluate what to leak, what to push, what to press to favoured and sympathetic journalists. This happens in almost any international organisation, I might say, but it just made our job more difficult. By mid-1997 or thereabouts, we jumped into the internet era. I think that was good. The Commonwealth was slightly rescued, if you want to use that word, by the next big Good and Evil story, which was Nigeria, as you all know, in 1995. Military government in power, writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged. Heads of government were personally annoyed that the execution went ahead. We’ve already talked about the Millbrook Plan of Action, CMAG etc. The press loved this. We were back on track as not being irrelevant, back on track being relevant and they were very pleased with us. The problem was that this led, by installing this kind of mechanism; it led to greater expectations of what we were doing. CMAG, for instance, I’m talking from the media point of view, is there to examine countries failing the Commonwealth’s own code, the Harare Principles. Well, they were going to hold us to it. The problem was the failure of keeping up to the Principles was not a question of crossing a clearly defined line. Military coups were definite no-nos except in one or two cases. Only a few were mounted anyway, by that time, for reasons other people have said. There were other question marks over human rights, interference with the judiciary, disregard of the constitutions etc.
The media took this up all the time. The Secretariat was responding with governments trying to put training in here, putting Good Offices there. Most of the time it didn’t want to talk about this because this would have undermined the role of the Secretary-General as a discrete interventionist as such. The Commonwealth really had raised the bar high and the media and some governments wanted to hold them to it, to its own proclaimed values and principles and that then became the story. To a certain extent perhaps it is still even the story today – the Commonwealth’s failure or not-failure to live up to its own values and principles. A very senior Secretariat official told me, I can’t remember when it was, it must have been the late 90s and again I won’t mention his name, he told me that the Harare Principles and the Millbrook Plan of Action were a mistake and he actually used the word mistake because, he said, “Once you set rules for yourself, you’re expected to follow them to the letter.” Now, that is a very cynical point of view, but I’m afraid that is what happened. We, in the Commonwealth are being held to that high principle or what people think is that high principle.
A struggle to reshape the image of the Commonwealth has thus moved on vastly from the Apartheid struggle. In fact, there are many people in South Africa, Stuart, I think you once said that you went to South Africa and there were people there who didn’t even know the Commonwealth had anything to do with the struggle and they were younger, not very young people but young-ish people. Yeah, anyone younger than us is young! It’s too late for the development agenda. It’s too late for the Commonwealth to hang on to the development agenda and use that as a media hook because the development agenda in media terms was something in the 70s, 80s – not 60s – 70s and 80s I will say, maybe even a bit of the 90s. So, they’re really not interested. I personally think that the Commonwealth has many audiences and maybe what we all have failed, us included, is to be able to react and to put our messages out to various different audiences. There is the audience of the media, which is very powerful. There is the audience of governments, which the SG and directors usually craft. There’s the audience of ministers with directors in each divisions usually do. There is the Commonwealth family which is sometimes not reached but on the whole, I think in the 90s which is my witness decade, I think was coming along very, very well. I think Chief Anyaoku did fantastic work in that.
Obviously, the next vision was the Democracy and Development bit and then governments got into a fight over that. I remember and I’m not a sort of witness to that because it was just slightly out of my decade but I remember that Secretary-General McKinnon was very bruised over that at one CHOGM. I can’t remember what it was. It might have been Malta, because he was pushing this Development and Democracy as two sides of the same coin and it got rapped on his knuckles by his own prime minister over it in a very public way as well. So, it has been difficult. It’s not a single thing that we in the Commonwealth or the Chairperson of the Commonwealth actually can push. It’s a very fractured imagine, at least in the 1990s, towards the end of it and by the time I left it was a very fractured image. I’m sure that every Secretary-General and every press officer in the Secretariat had tried to bring that together.
Perhaps it is a lack of a public relations role in the Commonwealth. We have media, we have communications, we now have Twitter, we have a very good website. Maybe we need a proper public relations role because that is missing. Public relations officials always tell me, “God, you people in the Commonwealth don’t know how to push yourselves,” so maybe an external affairs role is needed at some point for the Secretariat. I think I’ll stop there.
PMU: Thank you. We’ve had two really excellent presentations and I should mention that we’re delighted to have, around the table, Richard Uku, the current Director of Communications here. So, if Richard would like to chip in at any point it would be great to hear from him. The floor is open. We’ll take questions until just before 18:00. So, please. Yes, Peter?
PW: Peter Williams. I just wondered what your feeling is about linking up the kind of public relations side of information work with the kind of thing the Commonwealth Connects is supposed to be doing, you know, a Secretariat information-based. I’m not sure whether they are and I wonder whether or not you think they should be under the same coordinator, direction or whether they are two quite different things.
PMU: I’ll take one or two different comments. Derek, would you like to?
DI: Well, I just want to say that Patsy and Cheryl between them have told the story superbly in about 10-15 minutes, of the whole scene from the time of the formation of the Secretariat. I thought it was terrific. Of course, we’re in a different period altogether now, but there have been very weak periods when the Commonwealth has lost a lot of ground in public relations, which it needn’t have done. I think when I made my report, as an example, it was all endorsed by heads of government afterwards but very little of it was implemented. There has been a falling back on the performance. It is very difficult to believe that when the Secretariat was first set up that there wasn’t even a press officer. It’s absolutely amazing, really. Then of course, Patsy was brought in by Arnold very quickly, brilliantly and rescued the situation single-handedly for a time, didn’t you? There is a tremendous job to be done and I don’t believe that the Commonwealth can’t be promoted today as it was before. There are different issues and it’s a different ball game but it can all be done, actually.
PMU: Thank you very much. Rupert, would you like to come up?
RJ: As Cheryl has said, and it was driven by Cheryl, it was decided that a publication section should be set up sometime, I think in 1996 and I was the first incumbent of that as the head of that section. There had been some limited publishing before, but this was the first time that there had been a dedicated publication section. There were many valid reasons why the Commonwealth Secretariat should have publications section, but I think there are two key or main results for the setting up of this section. For instance, within a couple of years, we were producing 20-25 titles in a range of subjects. Also, we were producing a range of what I call advertorial publications produced by external publisher partners on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat, such as the Commonwealth Yearbook, the Commonwealth Education Partnerships and Commonwealth Health. These both gave more publicity to what the Secretariat did and what were some of the key issues that were facing Commonwealth countries. We were selling the list into bookshops throughout the Commonwealth. Through the publication of the advertorial titles, this provided additional monies to the divisions and by the time I left, this was about £150,000 p.a. which was being distributed to the divisions. Thank you.
PMU: Thank you very much. Patsy, Cheryl, would you like to respond to any of the points that have been raised?
PR: Peter, you asked about Commonwealth Connects. I have to tell you, my dear, I don’t even know what Commonwealth Connects does, which I think is a metaphor for a lot of things. You see, an organisation like the Secretariat which is small, which now has an agenda which, shall I say, is not sexy in any way, but which has to compete with every government, every organisation, NGO, everybody is telling a story. It has to be seen to be doing something that is of value, that has resonance with people, not only in the big metropolitan areas, big, big countries but also in its smaller members so that people have some kind of identity with this organisation, their government belongs to. Now, I get profoundly irritated, I’m very irritated at the number of things that the Commonwealth says it is doing whereas the Latimer House Principles, there is this, there is that, it confuses people. It absolutely confuses people and it does mean the Commonwealth can be held to ransom on practically every issue because it’s said something on every issue and it has pledged to do things which it knows it cannot do and it shouldn’t do it. I go back to the Singapore thing where we were against racism; we want people to develop an easy document which nobody ever said that you must be held to. Okay? But that’s another story.
So, we have confused our image terribly in the last, say, 2-3 decades. How do you do it? What are you doing that’s of interest to anybody? We hear of the erosion of Health, Education, ministers of finance barely meet. There is no story. There was – “we are this family with this latticework of meetings”. We were the only organisation in the world doing it. Now, we are an organisation which is pledging to fight racism, not racism anymore, sorry, democracy, governance. What are you doing, Vijay? You have a new thing now. What is it? No, it’s got a funny word before it. “Participatory Governance.” Now, if that’s not enough to turn – sorry, Vijay – people just can’t cope with that, you know? That is the big problem. We are doing a lot of publications but who has time to read huge, thick publications? If you’re going to compete in this world in terms of maintaining some kind of image, do one thing well, make it simple and spread the message. I think the worst thing that ever happened and I hate to, when the Secretariat was when they stopped giving Derek £50,000 to send out marvellous little articles with lots of lovely drawings and pictures and it went in every paper. Everybody all over the world knew that the Commonwealth was doing simple things which were of benefit. They made stories about education ministers interesting – and that’s tough!
Is that okay? We lost that and it hasn’t been replaced by big publications. The one other thing I want to say is that we encourage academics so if you had been there 20 years ago, you would have had a lot of access because you would be writing about, people spoke of, we had 4-5 who came to every CHOGM and they had a lot of access. I want to make a plea that the Heads of Government Meetings could still be sold. People like meetings of leaders. If it’s just to convince yourself they are totally useless and they meet and spend money and don’t do anything but at least people pay attention. The meeting now is what, a day and a half? Two days?
PMU: Two and a half.
PR: Two and a half days? It has a grandiose opening ceremony which doesn’t even get it publicity, which to me is such a waste of time. It takes up half a day. They meet and then they go into retreat. The retreat was where I got publicity because I took in the media. We had already met for three days and they had gone, economic and so forth and you saw leaders playing a little bit of golf, sitting by the swimming pool chatting. We called it ‘refreshing the image’ which meant every television, thing in the world would show a picture of Malcolm Fraser talking to Kenneth Kaunda, sitting by a swimming pool. You know what I mean? That kept the Commonwealth. Now, we have lost all of that. Now, how do you replace it because it’s not a book? You don’t want a book. You just want somebody to get a simple story of an organisation of a family, that’s died a death as well, of a family getting together and doing small but useful things. So, Commonwealth Connects, Peter, what does it do, darling?
PMU: I think it’s too late. I’m going to give Richard the final word because I’m afraid we’ve got to – sorry to the people I didn’t get round to – but we’ve got to wind up.
RU: Thank you, Peter. I’ll try and be brief. Good evening and I apologise for not being here earlier. First of all, let me arrive at a number of things and I’ll try and zip through them very quickly. First of all, it’s always a pleasure to listen to Patsy and Cheryl. When you look at past, present and future, there’s a proverb. There are probably lots of proverbs that say you can’t really take hold of your future unless you look behind you and see where you have come from. So, it’s always a pleasure to sit down with Patsy and Cheryl and Derek and so many others to look at what came before. Today, we’re still trying to fill the fine shoes of Cheryl and Patsy. I’m not sure how successfully, but we’re trying. We’re doing the best we can. First, on Commonwealth Connects, it’s a very simple thing. Commonwealth Connects is a platform, it’s a window or a doorway, if you will, on our web that serves as a sharing platform for professional communities of practice. Right now, we have about, at last count, well over 115 different communities of practice and they can go from anything, from the Commonwealth Electoral Network to the Commonwealth Beekeepers Association. There is a platform for interactivity for these different communities of practice.
Now, just a word on the environment in which we work today. It has changed considerably. There are lots of wins that we had in the past. We work in a different environment today, one which comes with its challenges. The web, I must talk about the web because the website and the web, the internet world has changed the dynamic of the way we work today. Our website is one of our most powerful tools today. We are very active on the web. As you noted earlier, Patsy, the website has changed a lot. It is continuing to change. We are using it as a tool to project our brand and on the brand, I would say that the brand is the most powerful thing we have. We are in the process of refreshing the Commonwealth brand. In fact, we’ve almost finished and between July 1-8, somewhere in that week, we’re going to be rolling out the refreshed Commonwealth brand.
One of the things I said to the Secretariat when I came here is, I said, “SG, if we are to achieve any success in portraying the Secretariat as a dynamic, modern organisation, we need to think differently about how we do so.” I said to him, “As Secretariat, when you think of a Secretariat, the Secretariat will always be here, but we are the Commonwealth. We are the primary intergovernmental agency for the Commonwealth, but a Secretariat already, when you think of branding and I’ve been doing branding for many years but when you think of a Secretariat, you first think of a very static organisation.” We’ve been projecting ourselves as the Commonwealth. Of course, the Secretariat is still there and it’s on all our paraphernalia and all our material. The new brand will show us as the modern, dynamic organisation that we are today, 54 nations, one third of the world’s population, and also showing us as an organisation that is very relevant to its members in so many different areas. I think you said, Cheryl, something about the Commonwealth being a non-story right now. I don’t think it’s a non-story. I think we’re far from that. There was a time when it was a non-story but I think there are enough issues that we are dealing with and providing assistance to our member countries that make us far more than a non-story. With regard to CHOGM, I don’t think there is any fear, Patsy, that we will risk not being in the spotlight, being in the media, come November.
PMU: I’m sure future historians will read that with a wry smile in 30 years’ time. We’ve really got to wind up.
RU: There’s one point that I’d like to make. And I don’t know if my colleagues had to deal with this but we talk about how we communicate the Secretariat, how we communicate our work in the Commonwealth. One thing we don’t do very well is enjoin third parties to speak on our behalf. We are just 300+ people in this Secretariat. Our leaders and our governments, stakeholders, civil society, we should be enjoining them more to talk about the work of the Secretariat. I sat in the UN General Assembly in September last year and I listened to speech after speech of Commonwealth leader after Commonwealth leader and not one said anything about the Secretariat, from the Chair-in-Office to –various- about half a dozen. So, I think if we have more of that, more third-party voices working alongside us to project the Commonwealth story and the Commonwealth brand, we can hope to get a lot further.
DI: Can I make one point? Gemini News Service may well come back. They’re working…
DI: They’re working in Canada in Carlton University. The Director of Carlton University School of Journalism was with Gemini for years and he is now working on a plan to re-launch, possibly.
PMU: That’s great.
DI: Also, all the stories are still out there just as they were 30 years ago. It’s just that they’re not being found. Right.
PMU: Thank you very much. Thank you all for staying the course. I know it’s been a long day. I know we’ve only scratched the surface but in the process I think we’ve captured some absolutely fascinating material. Thank you all. Congratulations on your lucid comments, your searching questions. Thank you on our behalf and as I suggested before, thank you on behalf of all the future generations of historians who are going to read this transcript and think, “That’s interesting. I must find out more about that,” and go that little bit deeper. Thank you. Thank you very much. We are actually going to move onto the final stage of our day, today, over drinks in the next room. So, please join us. Thank you very much.
[End of Witness Seminar]