UN Bans Propaganda, Then Refuses
to Take Questions, Crackdown in Gaza's Wake?
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis
NATIONS, January 27 -- Accused
during the Gaza conflict of being ineffective, the UN's media operation
sought to crack down on and cut off the Press. Last week UN
Michele Montas declaimed that briefings are "not for propaganda."
This week, Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe read out a series of press
and then refused to take questions even about them during the briefing,
having made an on-camera commitment to do so.
On January 21, members of the Press asked Ms. Montas
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's backing away from a call for an
investigation of the bombing of UN facilities in Gaza. While one
harkened back to destruction in Lebanon on 1996, Inner
City Press asked Montas
to explain how Ban could commit to Israel's Ehud Olmert that Hamas'
would be part of any investigation. Video here,
from Minute 18:56.
Of course it would include that, Montas answered.
But if as she'd said,
Ban doesn't control where the investigation is done, how can he know
The next day, Ms. Montas began the briefing by
reading out a statement
that among other things the briefing room is not to be used for
She said that Inner City Press had been there when this statement
was adopted, between the UN Department of Public Information and the UN
Correspondents' Association. Video here,
from Minute 24:10.
Inner City Press asked if, as
applies not only to the media, but to propaganda from the briefing room
Ms. Montas said, "We usually try to avoid to have people on the podium
give propaganda, in the case of UN briefers." Video here,
On January 23, Montas made a point of telling the
asked about Lebanon on 1996 to keep his questions "short and to the
from Minute 41:58.
UN's Ban in Egypt, crackdown on and exclusion of Qs
from Press not shown
Ms. Montas' deputy Marie Okabe took over the
briefings on January 26 and
27. On the first of those two days, she took but did not answer Inner
Press' questions about UN system
contracting with Satyam, the so-called Indian
Enron, and said that the widely-reported nomination of UN
General Jane Holl Lute to be deputy head of US Homeland Security
was not yet
official, and so she wouldn't say if Lute will continue working at and
UN even while nominated for a US government post.
The one answer Okabe did later provide was to say that a complaint
Algeria filed with the UN Department of Economci and Social Affairs on
January 14 against a non-governmental organization would not be
released, click here
On January 27, things hit a new low. Because the UN
decided to have the
head of the UN Population Fund Thoraya Obaid come to the noon briefing
about President Barack Obama renewing funding to her agency, Ms. Okabe
that she would take questions after Ms. Obaid spoke. Okabe took three
-- none from Inner City Press -- prior to Ms. Obaid's presentation.
not answer about Satyam, just as she has declined to make even the
public financial disclosure urged by Ban Ki-moon, click here for her refusal.)
The moment Obaid had finished, Ms. Okabe stood up to
go. The lights were
turned off. In the half light Inner City Press asked, what about the
Q&A? Go ahead and ask me now, Ms.
Okabe said. Inner City Press asked four questions, ranging from an increased
budget for the UN in Afghanistan and a "loss of
confidence in the UN"
by Congo and Rwanda, to the exclusion
of the press from an ostensibly opening
meeting on human rights at the UN in Geneva. "Ask Geneva," Ms.
said. But this is UN central, this presumably is where the orders come
To her credit, Okabe called Inner City Press later
on Tuesday to ask to
be reminded of the Afghanistan question, and her Office sent a copy of
a statement from Geneva. The theory of this case is that these
orders to crack down on and exclude the press come from higher up.
the 38th floor -- guess who? -- saw the rambunctious questions about
January 21, and told Montas to crack down, the theory goes. And things
progressed, or regressed, from there. The purpose of this piece is to
snapshot. We will continue to follow the process.
Footnotes: while on Ban's Middle
East trip, not only the Korean media Yonhap but also Seoul Broadcasting
given privileged access. When it appeared that only three reporters
with Ban to Gaza, provisions were made for Korean involvement. Others
out, Korean is not one of the six working languages of the UN. But the
such coverage does not appear to be UN promotion. So some media are
increasingly excluded, while others are beckoned in.
Heard at the stakeout:
run-up to Susan Rice's stakeout on January 26, it was suggested that
Correspondents' Association get the first question. The US Mission to
worked with this, asking even what the question would be. Other
rebelled, saying there was no precedent for this. The level of control
UN continues to grow. Take for example this leaked document that Inner City Press has obtained scripting Ban
Ki-moon ostensibly informal and wide-open January 5, 2009 Town Hall
with staff which listed, in advance, the staff members who would be
to ask questions. How long before UN press conferences, and even the
to be asked, are exposed to be like this?
Click here for Inner City Press' Jan.
16, 2009 debate about Gaza
Click here for Inner City Press'
review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate
Click here for Inner
City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger
Click here from Inner City Press'
December 12 debate on UN double standards
Click here for Inner
City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics
Click here for Inner City
Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo
Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on
UN, bailout, MDGs
and this October 17 debate, on
Security Council and Obama and the UN.
* * *
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