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UN Language Wars in Resolution, NHK Added to P3 TV, Farewell

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 -- Sometimes the language wars at the UN go behind closed doors. Such was the case on May 1 when the UN Committee on Information considered, paragraph by paragraph, a resolution on the work of the Department of Public Information.

   Back on April 28, delegates from Argentina to Cuba and China asked why the UN Webcast archives are not in Spanish or Chinese, Russian or Arabic.

  On May 1 the draft resolution's Paragraph 72 was directly on this point; the UN's excuse about its "MAMS" system was not considered compelling. Inner City Press, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, asked about it on April 29:

Inner City Press: in the Committee on Information, various countries raised issues about why their languages arenít represented, that the archives of UNTV are not presented in Spanish, Chinese, Russian. It wasnít really clear to me what the answer on that was--

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric: I think the answer is that itís an effort that we have tried, [the Department of Public Information] has tried to improve the situation in terms of languages. We are now able to webcast in the six languages; I know that theyíre working the technologies to archive it in the six languages. Itís an issue of resources, itís an issue of mandate, but itís not an issue of will and of willingness to do more in many languages. And in fact, a lot of the UNTV programming is now done in different languages.

Inner City Press: This is a simpler one, I know it will be the last one for me, I know thereís an event down there, but I wanted to ask on the actual UN EZTV which has channels and itís an in-house thing, it seems like now, thereís two French channels, thereís two American news channels, thereís Al-Jazeera, thereís no Russian or Chinese channel, soÖ

Spokesman Dujarric: Weíre trying. Part of the issue is what we can get for free, we had to cut costs in terms of subscription so it was a cost issue, but I know itís an effort on the part of [the Department of Public Information] to add more channels in different languages, but itís also trying to do it in a way that doesnít cost us a dime.

Inner City Press: Itís seems like P3 TV, do you see why?

Spokesman: Okay, thatís a comment, not a question.

Two days later there is an addition on UN in-house EZTV, but it is not Chinese or Russian: it's Japan's NHK. So G4 TV?

  More insidiously, France's outgoing Permanent Representative to the UN Gerard Araud on April 15 told a UN accredited correspondent (not this one) who asked a critical question, "You are not a journalist, you are an agent."

  Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access has asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric to convey to the French mission the UN's stated position, that correspondents should be treated with respect. So far it has not happened.

  On May 1 responding to a public invitation to a Q&A session with Araud -- for $20 mind you -- Inner City Press went to ask him this question and others. But once at the venue, a law firm on Lexington Avenue, Araud said it was off the record. Bait and switch, on World Press Freedom Day.

  The attacked correspondent has for days asked the UN Correspondents Association's Executive Committee to take some action -- as, we note, it did with respect to another media, and another Ambassador. But the attacked journalist tells Inner City Press that UNCA is "dragging its feet." Others are not surprised.

Footnotes: In fairness, initiatives like DPI's Brown Bag Lunch series with for example UN Security and the UN envoy to Libya were good, and we thank now outgoing Under Secretary General for Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthalfor them. More is possible before he leaves in mid-August. The press and public should have input into the criteria and selection process, the Free UN Coalition for Access maintains - just as its sign remains and will remain up, even as its most recent flier about reform was torn down April 30.

  We heard on April 30 that USG Launsky-Tieffenthal is leaving, and FUNCA out of respect wrote to him and asked. He is an Austrian civil servant and is being called back to service in Vienna in mid-August.  By contrast other Under Secretaries General like Herve Ladsous still openly refuse particular media's questions, and other USGs rarely if even take questions. Improvements, including a UN Freedom of Information Act and improved UN Media Alert, are needed. Watch this site.


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