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UN Has List of Ban's Calls, But It Can't Be Seen, Only Guessed At, No Freedom of Information

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, February 13 -- Each day the UN Secretary-General's spokesperson carries to the press briefing a list of calls he's made. If a reporter asks about a call, or if referring to a call seems like a good answer to a question, the call and topic are disclosed. But when Inner City Press asked if calls, like the Secretary-General's and Deputy Secretary-General's meetings, could routinely be listed for correspondents, the answer that came back was no. What is the difference between a meeting and a call?

            On Wednesday away from New York, on Myanmar's border with Thailand, a just-escaped democracy activist described continued repression, saying of the Burmese government that UN envoy Ibrahim "Gambari may tell them to stop arresting people but they just carry on." At the UN's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas for a reaction to this. Ms. Montas replied that Ban has called the president of Indonesia and the foreign ministers of China and India, then went on to give the time of the Indian call -- 7:45 in the morning -- and to add that Ban had called Tony Blair. Inner City Press asked if this last call, disclosed for the first time and seemingly by a fluke at the noon briefing, had included climate change, since Blair recently took a two million pound job with Zurich Financial to advise on climate change. (That this might be another conflict of interest or require some safeguards was raised by Inner City Press, but not answered for the second time by the UN.)

            Wednesday afternoon, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson's office if they have "a daily log of work-related calls that Mr. Ban makes, might that list either be put out in the spokesperson's office like the list of his meetings, or be read out at the noon briefing?" A well-crafted answer from Ban's spokesperson's office ensued, quoted now in full:

"In order to properly discharge his functions, the Secretary-General has a number of tools at his disposal, including reaching out to specific people by phone. While some the Secretary-Generalís contacts are public, he must retain the ability to have confidential communication with whomever he wishes in order to effectively conduct diplomatic business, especially when it involves his good offices. The list of his daily telephone contacts and daily appointments will continue to be released to the press when appropriate."

            So Wednesday it was appropriate, but other days it may not be?

Ban Ki-moon and entourage, recipients of calls shrouded in mystery

 Even the list of meetings is not complete. Earlier this week, environment envoy Yvo de Boer told Inner City Press he had met "in the flesh" with Ban, but that never showed up on the list. But as to calls, why can't even an incomplete list, or as complete as that for meetings, be made available to the press? The response shows why the UN's long-promise, long-delayed freedom of information scheme should be implemented now. Most recently, Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena said the policy is "almost ready," to go to the General Assembly this May or in the Fall. Transparency, transparency. We'll have more on this.

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These reports are also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540