Celebrity Appearances and the Potential for Reputational Harm at the United Nations Security Council
After Russia invited Roger Waters, co-founder of the English rock band Pink Floyd, to address the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”), an anonymous U.N. official remarked, “What next? Mr. Bean?” This sentiment, as well as much of the discourse surrounding Waters’s speech, reflects an ongoing debate regarding celebrity advocacy in politics and international affairs. Indeed, celebrities have shown that their ability to mobilize their fan bases and direct resources to important causes can be extremely valuable to international organizations, like “Goodwill Ambassador” celebrities are to the U.N.
The speech itself called for a ceasefire in the conflict, but Waters also maintained his position that Russia was provoked into starting the conflict by Ukraine. The UNSC representative for the United States noted that while Waters has “impressive credentials as a recording artist,” his qualifications and authority to speak to the UNSC were “less evident.”
Depending upon the seriousness and circumstances of the issue, the U.N. should balance the potential harms and benefits of utilizing celebrity power to its international reputation. Some celebrities benefit international organizations by using their financial and social resources to advocate for causes that alleviate harm for those with comparatively less of a voice in international politics. In contrast, celebrity testimony in militarized conflicts between states has more potential to harm the reputation of the international organization and distract from the severity of the issue. The diminished reputation, and therefore credibility, of the U.N. through celebrity advocacy in militarized conflicts could harm its effectiveness in international law.
The Importance of Reputation in International Organizational Law
Reputation is crucially important to international organizations. For example, a reputation for complying with international law can influence the international organization’s legitimacy and consequently affect the organization’s ability to secure cooperation from its member states. Even when the international organization is in compliance with international law, its reputation can be shaped by its morality, effectiveness, and expertise.
Although the general population has little direct influence over international organizations like the U.N., international public perception and general views of the organization’s legitimacy still have the potential to hinder the effectiveness and perceived legitimacy of the organization. Public perception by individuals can also be influenced by how the organization treats the member state of which they are a constituent.
Further illustrating the importance of reputation to international organizations like the U.N., acts or omissions that cause reputational damage can qualify as an abuse of authority by senior organization personnel. Even if particular instances of reputational harm do not amount to a serious violation of law and policy, repeated instances of reputational damage by individuals associated with an international organization can negatively impact its legitimacy and effectiveness.. Determining whether the use of celebrity testimony at the U.N. could cause such consequences requires a balancing of the potential harms and benefits brought by these celebrities to the organization.
Potential Harm to the U.N.’s Reputation Through Celebrity Testimony
When Waters accepted the invitation to speak to the UNSC on the Russia-Ukraine conflict by Russian representatives, the UNSC invited judgment from its member states and speculation from the broader public regarding the Council’s morality, effectiveness, and expertise.
In addition to having multiple different audiences, there are many different forums in which international organizations both engage in and are the subject of international discourse. One such forum is news media. When media discourse harms the reputation of an international organization, its authority and effectiveness can deteriorate. Further, the criticisms of member states are some of the most reputationally harmful instances of such discourse, given the sway member states have over international organizations.
Following the speech, representatives and news media outlets focused largely on the drama within Pink Floyd rather than the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The focus of these publications on the personal lives of celebrities trivializes the important matters of international law and security that the UNSC discusses. Further, multiple member states criticized the Waters’s remarks and questioned his credentials to speak on the matter. Although this instance standing alone is unlikely to severely tarnish the reputation of the UNSC, the organization’s reputation could be undermined if similarly unqualified and bombastic speakers are invited to weigh in on important matters of international conflict and security.
Potential Benefits to the U.N.’s Reputation through Celebrity Testimony
Celebrities can also improve the reputational standing of an international organization. For example, Angelina Jolie served as the Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001 to 2012 and then as Special Envoy from 2012 to 2022. When Jolie resigned in 2022, the U.N. Secretary-General stated that Jolie had “opened public eyes, minds, and hearts.”
There are several reasons why international organizations find celebrity advocacy beneficial, in cases like Jolie’s. Celebrities can reach larger audiences by increasing visibility and bridging the gap between political elites and the general population. Their celebrity also allows them to use official and unofficial methods of communication and engagement to get their message across on the global stage. Celebrities are also able to contribute their own resources to their causes in a more liberal manner than member states of the U.N. responding to their constituencies might be able to. The financial ability of affluent celebrities to advocate for causes can make a difference without drawing exclusively from the contributions of member states to support these issues.
Reputation is an important factor contributing to an international organization’s standing and effectiveness in international law. In many circumstances, the potential for harm to an international organization’s reputation by a celebrity appearance can be outweighed by the benefits these celebrities can bring to the organization. Celebrities can use their power, resources, and influence to benefit those with less of a voice in international affairs. The benefits of these efforts add to the legitimacy and public standing of the U.N. and other international organizations that focus on aiding such vulnerable populations.
However, there are certain topics, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, where celebrity advocacy is more likely to bring harm to organizational reputation and distract from the major issues. In those situations, primarily those involving militarized conflict between two member states, the use of celebrity testimony can alienate member states and damage public perception regarding the organization. Such advocacy also risks distracting from the major humanitarian crises in the conflict. These dynamics can lead to a damaged reputation and decrease the efficacy and legitimacy of the organization. In considering whether to invite celebrity testimony, an international organization should analyze the scope of the issue and balance the potential benefits and harms of inviting the celebrity.
- Megan Graye, ‘What Next, Mr. Bean?’ Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to Speak to UN Security Council, The Independent (Feb. 8, 2023), https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/roger-waters-russia-ukraine-war-b2278219.html. ↑
- See Samantha Majic, Daniel O’Neill & Michael Bernhard, Celebrity and Politics, 18 Perspectives on Politics 1, 1 (2020) (noting that “with their massive fan bases and media reach, celebrities have a vast platform to advance their issues and views, and they are often granted access to national and international governing bodies such as the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.”) ↑
- See Messengers of Peace, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/isotope-articles/9189 (last visited Mar. 11, 2023) (listing the Goodwill Ambassadors for multiple UN organizations, many of whom are notable celebrities in popular culture). ↑
- See Michelle Nichols, Invited by Russia, Roger Waters tells UN: Ukraine invasion illegal, Reuters (Feb. 8, 2023), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/invited-by-russia-roger-waters-tells-un-ukraine-invasion-illegal-2023-02-08/. ↑
- Kristina Daugirdas, Reputation and the Responsibility of International Organizations, 25 Eur. J. of Int’l L. 991, 993 (2014). ↑
- Kristina Daugirdas, Reputation as a Disciplinarian of International Organizations, 113 Am. J. Int’l L. 221, 228-29 (2019). ↑
- See id. at 223. ↑
- Terrence Chapman, Audience Beliefs and International Organization Legitimacy, 63 Int’l Org. 733, 735-36 (2009) (observing the view that the legitimacy of an institution’s decisions is conditioned “on perceptions about an institution’s motives or the preferences of member states.”) ↑
- Id. at 736. ↑
- See Daugirdas, supra note 6, at 227-28 (citing Marie Deschamps, Hassan B. Jallow & Yasmin Sooka, Report of an Independent Review on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by International Peacekeeping Forces in the Central African Republic, Taking Action on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers, at 67, 75, UN Doc. A/71/99 (Dec. 17, 2015)). ↑
- See, e.g., Joan Elise Dubinsky, The Global Fund Ethics and Reputational Risk Assessment 8 (2008), https://www.theglobalfund.org/media/2603/oig_ethicsandreputationalriskassessment_report_en.pdf?u=636723358920000000 (outlining an ethical and reputational risk assessment of the Global Fund looking at varying degrees of risk related to conduct related to integrity and conduct related to “people risks.”) ↑
- Chris Willman, Roger Waters Addresses U.N. Security Council, at Russia’s Behest, Urging Peace but Repeating Charge That Ukraine Invasion Was ‘Provoked,’ Variety (Feb. 8, 2023), https://variety.com/2023/music/news/roger-waters-addresses-united-nations-security-council-russia-ukraine-pink-floyd-1235517133/. ↑
- See Daugirdas, supra note 5, at 993. ↑
- Id. ↑
- See, e.g., Daugirdas, supra note 6, at 240 (discussing the role of a Guardian article in harming the reputation of the U.N. and its responses). ↑
- See id. at 231 (noting how member states are not equally responsive to all their audiences and especially sensitive to the criticism of member states). ↑
- See, e.g., Ed Mazza, Pink Floyd Feud Spills Out Into Public As Roger Waters, David Gilmour Go At It, HuffPost (Feb. 7, 2023), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/roger-waters-david-gilmour-pink-floyd-feud_n_63e1cea6e4b07c0c7e0c22de (noting how the Albanian U.N. representative praised David Gilmour, co-founder of Pink Floyd and, recently, Waters’s rival, for his new pro-Ukraine song in response to Waters’s speech to the U.N.S.C); Fox News, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters Fires Back at Bandmate, Says David Gilmour, Wife, ‘Have No Ideas’, N.Y. Post (Feb. 10, 2023), https://nypost.com/2023/02/10/pink-floyds-roger-waters-fires-back-at-david-gilmour-wife/ (discussing the U.N.S.C. speech in the context of the ongoing Waters-Gilmour feud); Tristram Saunders, Roger Waters: ‘I Called Putin a Gangster – That May Have Been Unfair’, Daily Telegraph (Feb. 8, 2023), https://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/artists/roger-waters-pink-floyd-dark-side-moon-gilmour-putin-ukraine/?li_source=LI&li_medium=liftigniter-rhr. ↑
- See Nichols, supra note 4. ↑
- Lisa Ann Richey & Alexandra Budabin, Celebrities in International Affairs, in Oxford Handbook Topics in Politics, 1 (Online ed., 2015). ↑
- Former Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, U.N. High Comm’r Hum. Rts., https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/special-envoy-angelina-jolie.html#:~:text=Angelina%20Jolie%20dedicated%20over%2020,awareness%20and%20support%20for%20refugees (last visited Mar. 13, 2023). ↑
- Pamela Falk, Angelina Jolie bows out as envoy for U.N. refugee agency, CBS News (Dec. 16, 2022) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/angelina-jolie-exits-as-envoy-united-nations-refugee-agency/. ↑
- See Richey & Budabin, supra note 19, at 4. ↑
- Id. ↑
- Id. at 9; see also, e.g., Messengers of Peace: Leonardo DiCaprio, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/messengers-peace/leonardo-dicaprio (last visited Mar. 11, 2023) (noting that Leonardo DiCaprio has used his foundation to provide financial support for 35 conservation projects). ↑