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UN Omits Ban's Answers From Transcript, Questions Raised by Accident

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 31 -- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is tired. This was among the UN press corps' reactions to a 14-minute question-and-answer with Mr. Ban on Wednesday in which several questions were not only not answered, but were apparently misunderstood. More troublingly, the UN's subsequently provided transcript of the Q&A session, purportedly verbatim, entirely omitted the erroneous answers, as if they had never been given. As Inner City Press recently reported, this has taken place with transcripts of Ban's spokesperson's noon briefings, for example the omission of the words "on bail" with reference to the release of a World Food Program worker in Somalia, click here for that. But when whole paragraph uttered by the Secretary-General are airbrushed out, more difficult issues are raised. Who makes the decision to erase what was said, and what gets erased?

            One example from Wednesday involves a question about the employees of the French NGO L'Arche de Zoe. The UN's transcript accurately captures the initial question:

Mr. Secretary-General, there is a situation brewing in Chad, where a few French NGOs apparently kidnapped about 109 children from there, and they were taking them to France and they were caught. In Chad at this time they are protesting. Is there a position that the United Nations has on this? Is it a kidnapping? Should it be condemned or not? What is your position on this?

            Mr. Ban's answer, captured (for now) on UN video here from Minute 6:08, rambled that "it is always a source of great concern for the UN" when "humanitarian workers and UN officials are threatened and intimidated." Those listening wondered if Mr. Ban was equating the criminal charges against the French NGO's "humanitarian workers" with "intimidation." Mr. Ban went on to "urge all parties to respect human rights and freedom of movement for humanitarian activities." Again, some of those listening wondered if the French NGO's workers didn't have too much "freedom of movement," as least when in possession of 100 children who are not, it now appears, orphans at all. Mr. Ban then referred to the "recent CEB meeting of the heads of all UN specialized agencies and funds and programs" having "adopted a strong statement urging and condemning such acts against humanitarian workers and UN officials." Video here, from Minute 7:14.

            This appears to be Mr. Ban's first public statement since the Chief Executive Board meetings wrapped up on October 27 -- notably, it did not answer outstanding questions about the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office or the availability of UN programs' audits, click here for that.

Mr. Ban meet-and-greet October 29, disappearing words not shown - poof!

            But the UN's transcript of the Q&A session does not include any of Mr. Ban's lengthy answer about the freedom of movement of humanitarian workers or about the CEB meeting. [By the end of October 31, the UN's online transcript had already been re-fixed once in response to complaints, so Inner City Press is putting up this screenshot.] In the transcript, immediately following the question (and without transcribing the insistent and collective follow-up question), there are only seventeen words: "we will look into this case and we will take the necessary measures to address this issue."

            As one reporter put it afterwards, if they're playing fast and loose on this, what else is going on?

* * *

            An answer from Wednesday's noon briefing transcript that was not edited, but may later have to be:

Inner City Press: I’m sorry to go back to the incident that happened Friday... of the crash and the two security officers that were injured.  I just...  I wanted to ask if the vehicle they were using requires a license in New York State and if the two of them had been given the training and had a license.  It's something I asked your Office on Monday.  I'm just trying to get a yes or no answer on that.

Spokesperson: Well, from what I gather, they had.  They had the license for it.  Okay?  You mean the scooter with the three wheels?

Inner City Press: Yes. And are you aware of any inquiry either by the NYPD Precinct or the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office?

Spokesperson: Not that I know of, no.

            We'll see.

* * *

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

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