In Secretary-General Announcement, Media Stresses New UN Leader’s Gender

On Thursday, the United Nations confirmed Antonio Guterres as its ninth secretary-general (SG). While many in the media stressed Guterres’ socialist background, outlets more so harped on a different storyline – the fact that a woman was not selected for the post.  

When Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, announced on Wednesday that Guterres became the Security Council’s unanimous choice for secretary-general, the Washington Post, the Washington Times,  and BuzzFeed all made the focus of their articles the fact that a woman was still left out of this top diplomatic position. Slate even titled their article “The Next Secretary-General of the United Nations Will Be a Dude. Again.”

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark was running against Guterres as a clear female favorite.

The issue of championing a woman for the role has been led by the group WomanSG. The campaign’s Chair, Dr. Jean Krasno, criticized the Security Council for picking yet another male, saying this choice was  “a disaster for equal rights and gender equality.” The statement criticized the Security Council for not taking the seven female candidates into consideration, doing a disservice to Eastern European men and women.

On the other hand, the Guardian’s article identifies Guterres as the former Prime Minister of Portugal, and not by his party affiliation. The story does point out the search for the secretary-general ended much earlier than expected, as it was projected to go into late October instead of finishing in the first week of this month. This was a surprise since Russia, a permanent member in the Security Council, holds veto power, and was expected to block any pick that was not eastern european.

Russia has been looking to make sure an eastern european secretary-general is chosen, however, those characteristics did not appear to carry the same weight after it vocally supported Guterres. Russia ultimately went on to vote in favor of him in Wednesday’s straw poll and today’s Security Council vote.

The Guardian article discusses Guterres’ strides to aid the international community into helping with the Syrian refugee crisis, which some are calling the worst case of civilian displacement since World War II. The Guardian’s spin regarding Guterres’ accession to secretary-general is a positive one, which is quite the opposite of that put out by Politico and WomanSG.

BBC News goes along with a similar take as the Guardian regarding Guterres. The news article gives a full bio of who Guterres is and what he’s done throughout his career as a representative of Portugal on the international stage.

The article spends a few sentences discussing the disappointment within the international community regarding the lack of a female and Eastern European representation for SG. However, the article does shed light on the selection process for SG of the UN.

Finally, Politico’s headline – “UN picks former Socialist leader of Portugal to lead the world body” – along with stories at Vox and other outlets, emphasized Gueterres’ socialist ties. Rather than lead with his name, Politico focused on his political leanings as a means to illustrate the new world leader. 

Overall, the response to Guterres selection as the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations, following popular two-term secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon,  has been split among domestic and international media. The current SG reached out to Guterres today, congratulating him on his nomination by the General Assembly.

Ban spoke to reporters in Rome today after meeting with the Italian president, praising Guterres’ tenure of public service: “His experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period.”

Considering Guterres’ track record and approval by the Security Council during the confirmation hearing, much of the media seems to trust the decision made by the permanent and non-permanent members of the UN.

Guterres will take the reigns from Ban Ki Moon on January 1, 2017. For now, the world will have to wait to see what Guterres will be able to do as secretary-general of the United Nations.

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