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March 1, 2011: Libya

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Amid Conflicts in Libya, Syria, Sudan & Kosovo, Horn of Africa Famine, UN Reduces Q&A by 40%, Has "Nothing to Say"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 12 -- As the Arab Spring turns to a bloody late summer, and according to the UN famine spreads in the Horn of Africa, UN headquarters in New York Friday confirmed it is moving to reduce its availability to the press by 40%.

  With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon back in his native South Korea, Inner City Press on August 12 asked Ban's acting deputy spokesman Farhan Haq to explain why two of the expected five daily briefings next week, and possible the week after that, are being canceled at this time.

  Haq replied that there would be "nothing to say," and accused Inner City Press of being the only one "worried about this one way or another," claiming to have polled journalists at the UN and gotten their agreement to cancel briefings. (See UN's partial transcription, below).

  Haq refused to provide any details of his polling; at a press-related event hosted by the US Mission to the UN the evening of August 11, there were a number of complaints about Ban's Spokesperson's Office refusing to even do a daily ten minute briefing, as Inner City Press had reported, despite events in the world.

  Even on the questions asked of Haq on August 11, few were answered. Inner City Press asked about the reported "buzzing" of the Zam Zam IDP camp in Darfur by Sudan's air force. Haq had no information on this, and said that "some of these reports have not checked out."

  Three weeks ago, UN official Ivan Simonovic said that the UN's human rights report about Southern Kordofan in Sudan, which includes descriptions of Egyptian UN peacekeepers doing nothing as civilians were kiled, would be formally released "in two weeks."
   Inner City Press asked Haq to explain the delay, one week and counting. Haq said it isn't delay, he'll announce when it's released.

   In the Security Council, there are countries dissatisfied by the UN's delay, and trying to get emergency meetings of the Council. The Secretariat's lackadaisical delay and Haq's statement that these weeks there's "nothing to say" sends a message: there is no emergency, or even urgency.

Any response to letters to Ban from municipal officials in Northern Kosovo? No, Haq said, the letters are being "studied."

Haq at briefing on Haiti, responses to Qs not shown: nothing to say?

  For months Ban's Spokesperson's Office claimed that a letter from the New York State AFL-CIO then a group of Congresspeople about UN attacks on the broadcast engineers' union was "being studied." On August 12, Haq confirmed Inner City Press' August 11 report that seven more engineers are being laid off, on top of 17 other posts lost, as a "cost cutting" move.

  Inner City Press asked Haq if the 40% reduction in briefings is a cost cutting move. Haq replied that it's "standard procedure."

  But what about Ban Ki-moon's repeated canned claim to be "deeply concerned" about the loss of civilian lives in a conflict in Libya in which under Security Council resolution 1973 Ban is to have a coordinating role? Because it's August (Haq said Ban's lead spokesman is out to August 29) -- and Ramadan -- will there be "nothing to say" about that?

 In fact, at least in Syria and Libya, it has been said that "every day will be protest Friday during Ramadan." Is this the time for the UN to cancel briefings and press question and answer sessions?

  Inner City Press asked, asks and will continue asking, what is the problem with devoting a ten minute briefing each week day to answering questions? Watch this site.

From the UN's transcription of its August 12, 2011, noon briefing, for video click here:

Inner City Press: you’d said this thing about the limited briefings next week. Is this a cost-saving move in the sense of the way that you announced with broadcast engineers? And two, given that the UN has 100,000 peacekeepers with weapons in the field, why is it unreasonable to think that for 10 minutes a day you could take and answer questions in this room?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq: First of all, Matthew, I just wish you could see some of the expressions of your colleagues when you asked that question.

Inner City Press: [inaudible]

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think I am doing a favor for as many of you as for any of my colleagues who man the various services.

Inner City Press: Who did you speak to? How many [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Secondly, Matthew, I have been here as a Spokesperson for 12 years, and every summer, there is a period and indeed the week between Christmas and New Year’s, there are times when we cut back on briefings. A lot of that has to do with low audience. That is standard procedure, and we’ve done this on and off.

Inner City Press: Who did you speak to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said before, if events warrant, we would revise that and hold further briefings. But there is no real purpose in holding briefings that might be sparsely attended on which we have nothing particular to say. And everyday, like I said, we will, as we do every other summer on days when we don’t give the briefings, we will come up with updates on the website.

Inner City Press: Is the UN doing less work in the field in August?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: And frankly, Matthew, you have been here for five or six years, and so you are about as used to this as I am.

Inner City Press: I guess what I was unused to is this idea that somehow you’ve polled people and then I’ve talked to a number of people that weren’t polled. So how did you decide to say that journalists here want less information rather than more? I don’t understand the basis. Just tell me how many did you speak to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, whenever I am around and frankly, many summers I am not around, I actually do ask a bunch of reporters just to test whether this is a good week to do it or not.

Inner City Press: In this case…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: But that’s standard. And frankly, every time I do it, the vast majority of people I talk to say “yeah, this is a good week to do it”.

Inner City Press: Maybe it’s based on who you speak to.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: If that changes, like I said, if that changes, we’ll change. But frankly, there isn’t a single person who is worried about this one way or another. [inaudible]

Inner City Press: I don’t think it’s true. I actually heard from others, but are you in the office, actually, I mean, is that office manned in the week?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Sure, sure. I will be here all week long and you can always feel free to come by and ask me questions.

Inner City Press: I mean is 10 minutes too much? I don’t understand it, I guess, is what I am saying.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You can have 10 minutes with me, as well. The question is: what’s useful and what’s not useful. This is hardly exceptional, not even for this, but for offices elsewhere in the country and in the world at this time of the year.

Inner City Press: When is the lead Spokesman coming back?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He should be back on I think 29 August, possibly before.

Inner City Press: Okay.

* * *

UN Dodges Press on Crackdowns in Sudan, Seeks To Cancel Noon Briefings, Spokesman Out for 40 Days?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visit to Korea greeted by artillery fire from the North, there are few answers from Ban's spokespeople in New York.

  They had no comment on crackdowns on the press in Sudan and Cote d'Ivoire, nor on protests of the UN in Nepal and even just across First Avenue by Haitians demanding reparations for the introduction of cholera.

   Even why Ban gave out the post of "Commissioner-General of the UN" to Samuel Koo in South Korea did not get an answer, twenty hours after it was asked at Tuesday's noon briefing.

  Nor, despite two requests from Inner City Press, has the UN been able to provide any information about Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro's month-long "official travel" in Tanzania.

  Now comes word that Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky is taking even more time off, reportedly from now until September 17. During this unheard of absence by a lead spokesman, Nesirky's acting deputy Farhan Haq is "canvassing" select reporters in order to say that they don't actually want the UN to hold noon briefings, despite events ranging from Syria to Yemen to Somalia and Sudan.

   Even though Haq runs "his" briefing in such a way that it takes less than ten minutes a day -- by limiting the Press to three questions, most of which are not answered -- even this is apparently too much, despite there being other people in the UN Office of the Spokesperson.

  Forget whether or not the UN will comment on crackdowns in Cote d'Ivoire or Bahrain: as an organization that has over 100,000 armed personnel out in the field, is it too much that they should stand and take questions for ten minutes a day, five days a week?

  Especially when, as of today, the UN has in place no chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as Alain Le Roy leaves as long ago announced, and the next Frenchman -- Jerome Bonnafont, Inner City Press reported six weeks ago -- is not in place, not even interviewed? We'll see.

Update: some Missions and Permanent Representative of the UN, even among the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, somewhat surprisinly watch the UN noon briefing on UN TV, and some have expressed surprise at the length of leave and move to shut off even the short televised briefings. But are the member states being canvassed? Who is being canvassed?  Watch this site.

Update: Haq later told Inner City Press, about the post given to Samuel Koo, that it concerns UNEP (though the post was reportedly given by Ban Ki-moon) and to "ask Martin [Nesirky] who is traveling with the Secretary General" in South Korea. Inner City Press has copied Nesirky on emails of subsequent questions, but so far, no answers.

Update of August 12: while still receiving no responses from Nesirky, Haq on August 12 told Inner City Press will be back "August 29 or before." We'll see.

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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These reports are usually 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

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