Ted Turner on the U.N.: Spoke but didn't listen


On Tuesday afternoon in New York, Georgia Popplewell, Alice Backer, Kamla Bhatt and I did our best to ask questions on behalf of the world's blogosphere at the Reuters “Newsmaker” conversation with Ted Turner, who gave $1 billion to set up the U.N. Foundation ten years ago.

The bloggers participating in the conversation – on their own blogs as well as live in the IRC chat – were generally disillusioned and skeptical about the U.N.'s ability to solve the world's problems. Many were concerned that Turner is wasting his money on needless bureaucracy and a dysfunctional organization whose governance structure is an increasingly illegitimate Cold-War era holdover. But Turner was adamant that his money is well spent.

It's worth noting that when Reuters host Paul Holmes said we would take questions from bloggers, Turner rolled his eyes.

Is the Mouth of the South more interested in talking than listening?

How interested is he, really, in listening to the voices of people who are on the receiving end of the U.N. projects and missions he helps to fund – and in taking their criticisms seriously?

In the IRC chat, Neha Viswanathan asked Turner who he represents: “Where does he gather his agenda from? Who does he identify with – America or the third world?” Turner responded that he represents “humanity.” There was much applause. But does he really listen when many members of that “humanity” want to tell him what they think of his efforts?

Our impression from this one encounter was that that Turner isn't really a listener. He wants CNN to report more international news, but if the voices of the people he aims to help are not sufficiently grateful, he did not seem inclined to adjust his views or plans.

Before the event began, Global Voices’ new Sub-Saharan Africa editor Ndesanjo Macha set the tone with lyrics from the Fela Kuti song, “Beasts of No Nation,” in a post titled Dis-United United Nations. Ndesanjo writes: “Will they listen? Perhaps as they did in Rwanda! And now in Darfur. And many more other places. You know what I mean.”

Iraqi blogger Salam Adil wrote a post titled: “UN – What's the point? A message to Ted.”

There is no point to to UN except for the Security Council – all the other bodies are either toothless or can be replaced. If this can't be made effective all the rest may as well be disbanded. One does not need to look to far into the history of the Security Council to see that the main obstacle is America. All other parties rarely use their veto. Unless America can be brought under some control by the UN there is no point to this whole discussion.

But, you see, America needs the UN, and the world needs the UN. It was only the UN that was able to extract Israel from the quagmire they created for themselves in Lebanon and its only the UN that is acting as a reality check against American madness towards Iran. It was America ignoring the UN that created the disaster that was Iraq – and it will be the UN that will be used as part of the solution. Without it we are really talking about World War 3.

So here is the problem Ted, your money has bought you a billion dollar soap box now what are you going to do with it? Kofi's almost out of a job and is going around telling the truth about the mess that the UN is in so he can get some good work on the after-dinner circuit. But where are you going with all this? Are your dollars just going to make a large lump in the landfill of failed initiatives or do you want to make a difference?

Salam also points to Thought Riot's essay on the U.N. here.

Turner did not seem interested in entertaining the idea that his money might be more usefully spent in other ways, or that he may just be putting yet another band-aid over a broken institution.

He insisted that the U.N. has done good in Haiti, despite Alice Backer's concerns that many Hatians are not happy with the performance of U.N. peacekeeping and election monitoring there.

Several people, like Oiwan Lam in Hong Kong, are concerned the U.N. isn't doing enough to protect human rights – especially when they are threatened by governments and corporations. We weren't able to get a clear answer from him on that. Though he did say that he thinks the U.S. was wrong not to stand for election in the new Human Rights Council while China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia all gained seats.

On the positive side, many appreciated his willingness to speak his views honestly, such as his declaration that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was among the dumbest things the U.S. has ever done. Whether or not you agree with him, there is no question of where he stands on any issue. Which as bloggers we all found refreshing, given that many major international donors and media moguls are less than upfront about their agendas.

Some more questions from the IRC chat that, unfortunately didn't get answered, mainly due to time concerns:

lIHd: I'm wondering if he has any reservations about donating to the UN given the massive inneficiency of prjects like the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda?

or wouldn't he like to donate to an organisation that is more proactive and could do something like prevent the genocide in the Sudan rather then spend lots of money producing periodic reports on a situations, then will spend about a billion (i think that's what the cost of the ICTR will run) making a statement retrospectively

or how he feels about America implimenting treaties like the Internation covenant on civil an political rights but picking and choosing what parts they will import into us law, leaving out key aspects that other countries ahve accepted.

Allen: Mr. Turner, what are your thoughts on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (USA, Russia, Great Britain, France and China) being the largest arms dealers in the world. Do you think it helps or hampers maintaining peace and security among nations?

Guest610: Here's a question: If the UN did decide to reject your donation, what other organization or cause might have received $1 bln

Also click here for more questions asked via the Reuters website.


  • Ted Turner is out of it and anyone who has listened to him lately can plainly see that. He’s an old man who is not quite well but insists on fighting to stay in the limelight and the public eye. I feel sorry for him in a way, having remembered the dynamic entreprenuer who had started CNN 25+ years ago and shook-up the news media network moguls back in the States.

    The best thing that Ted Turner can do for his fans now is to ride off into the sunset on his ranch up in Montana and hope that he checkouts before his young(er) wife (whats-her-name, Jane Fonda) gets tired of his BS and leaves him for a younger man.

    She already has??? When? She grew up in Hollywood, you know.

  • I didn’t realize (yesterday) that this was such an important event (Reuters Newsmaker Conversation with Ted Turner); otherwise, I would not have made that stupid comment about “Ted riding off into the sunset…” Sorry Rebecca and Mr. Turner. Keep paragraph 1 of my comment and please scratch nrs. 2 & 3.

    I’ve read some of the linked posts here and most are well written and provide various international viewpoints on the relevency of the United Nations. I see that many people abroad feel that the UN is a world body that is manipulated by the national interests of the Permanent 5 (UNSC), with the U.S.A. being Public Enenmy Nr. 1. This is not an unusual viewpoint as reflected by the global rhetoric over the past 60+ year history of the United Nations, and there are plenty of other inter-governmental bodies worldwide that were founded to supplement (enhance) and even compete with the United Nations. One of these organizations (NAM) just had their 14th Summit down in Havana, Cuba last week.

    I like many people would LOVE to SEE a UN that REALLY WORKS, from the UN Security Council to the various humanitarin organizations to the UN General Assembly. But what we citizens of the world have instead is a decrepit inter-governmental world body with a history of outrageous financial scandals, a bureaucracy of officials and experts and staff workers that is so tangled and corrupt that no amount of reforms will fix the problem, a Security Council that is so slow and self-serving that to call on its assistance is equal to a death sentence for many nations (Rwanda, DR Congo, Darfur, Burma, Cambodia, etc. etc.), and a General Assembly divided into so many regional interests groups and political and idealogical networks that they couldn’t serve a cup of coffee, let alone serve the business of the people of the world.

    Therefore, I think that successful businesspeople like Ted Turner and others should be able to contribute any amount of money they wish toward the United Nations. But if the U.S. Congress were to ask the American people via a national referendum whether the country should continue to financially support the UN or pullout alltogether, I’m afraid that America’s continued support for the UN would cease or be severely restricted and diminished.

    This of course would force the organization to move its headquarters to another country of choice (in Europe most likely) and open the door for a fairer and more balanced international membership and leadership, excluding the United States of America. How does that sound? Sounds great to me. How about a show of hands?

  • […] Huko nyuma niliandika kuhusu mahojiano yaliyofanywa na shirika la habari la Uingereza, Reuters na yule jamaa aliyetoa mamilioni mengi kwa ajili ya “Dis-United United Nations” (yaani Umoja wa Mataifa), Ted Turner. Bonyeza hapa usome niliyoandika, kisha bonyeza hapa usome aliyoandika Rebecca MacKinnon kuhusu mahojiano hayo.   […]

  • […] Ndesanjo Macha reminds those who did not listen to Ted Turner’s interview with Reuters (UN: Will they listen?) to read Rebecca’s piece. […]

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