A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX: Radio documentaries, The Stanley Foundation and KQED Public Radio

By Quill

The United Nations was formed nearly 60 years ago to maintain international peace and security, protect basic human rights, foster social progress and promote international law.

The world organization costs $7.51 per year for every man, woman and child in America. The Stanley Foundation and KQED Public Radio asked, “Are we getting our money’s worth?” and “In the post-9/11 world, is the United Nations still relevant?”

“UNder Fire: The United Nations’ Battle for Relevance” explored the United Nations’ struggles to meet the complex political challenges of the 21st century.

“At a time when most press coverage of the United Nations center on scandals, ‘UNder Fire’ focused on the issues facing the United Nation that have been, and in many cases remain, underreported,” said Stanley Foundation producer Kristin McHugh. “While coverage of various scandals dogging the United Nations is important and necessary, UNder Fire goes beyond the halls of the United Nations in New York to provide listeners with first-hand field observations and human stories that are lost when reporting on large, bureaucratic institutions.”

David Brancaccio, host of PBS’s weekly public affairs series NOW, hosted the one-hour documentary.

All over the U.N. grounds in New York there are reminders that this collection of buildings along the East River was founded on high ideals and Utopian goals. One of them is protecting people in danger.

There are more than 10 million people worldwide officially considered “refugees” – men, women and children who have fled across international borders to escape war or persecution. The United Nations has broad powers to protect them.

But there are another 25 million people who don’t fall into that neat category. They are the “internally displaced,” victims of civil conflicts, many of which began when the Cold War ended, who have been driven from their homes, but who have remained within their country’s borders. Figuring out how to assist them is a major challenge for the United Nations.

The documentary covered events in Iraq, Congo and Uganda.

“Despite the timeliness of the documentary at the time it was completed in May 2004, most, if not all, of the field stories reported remain relevant today,” said McHugh. “Iraq remains a quagmire both for the United States and the United Nations. Terrorism and the global efforts to quell it remain a top priority of the U.S. and U.N. member states.”