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UN Is OK with Censorship In Burkina, Silent on Killed Journalist in S. Sudan

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 21 -- At the UN there is much talk about the protection of journalists in conflict situations, and about freedom of the press. But when Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access on May 21 asked the UN about a journalist killed in South Sudan, where the UN has a mission, there was nothing:

Inner City Press / FUNCA: In South Sudan, a journalist of Radio Tamazuj, Pow James Raeth, is reported to have been killed by gunfire in Akobo.  And I wanted to know whether UNMISS, which I believe still has a facility in Akobo, is aware of it, if they have any comment on it, and what they think is behind the killing of this journalist.

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq:  We'll have to check with UNMISS whatever details there are of that incident.

  Seven hours later, there was no answer. The day before, on May 20, Inner City Press for FUNCA asked about Burkina Faso:

Inner City Press / FUNCA: Burkina Faso has announced that it's banning live political broadcasts for three months in the run-up to elections, and a number of press organizations have been critical of it.  Given DPA (Department of Political Affairs) and the UN's kind of involvement in different stages in Burkina Faso, do you have any view of that banning of live political broadcasts?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  I don't know whether it's a banning or whether it's restrictions.  There are a number of countries that restrict political broadcasts in the run-up to elections, and sometimes that's designed to lessen the threat of electoral violence, so that's a more complicated issue.  So at this stage, we wouldn't have anything to say about that.  If there are concerns about actual harassment of journalists, that would be a case for concern.

 What about the killing of a journalist in South Sudan? Next week the UN Security Council under its Lithuania presidency has a meeting on the protection of journalists, and we will cover it. But we will not cover the RSF side event with Christophe Deloire held in the clubhouse of UNCA, which typically did not ask about the journalist killing in South Sudan or censorship in Burkina Faso. In fact, UNCA board members tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, for its reporting, becoming the UN Censorship Alliance.

Many organizations like to "launch" their reports at or in the United Nations, and so ask few questions about UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists did one earlier this year.

  Tellingly, while CPJ spoke out against the censorship in Burkina Faso, it has said nothing about the UN's defense of it. What is the likelihood of Burkina reversing itself, when it now has UN endorsement?

 On February 14, 2013, Inner City Press asked CPJ about the UN Correspondents Association's board members trying to censor its reporting about Sri Lanka and trying to get its UN accreditation "reviewed."

 The CPJ response was no comment on the "internal dynamics of the UN's accreditation process," saying its focus is "international press freedom issues." Isn't censorship at the UN international?

  Now it gets worse - the above quoted Q&A was at least in the open UN Press Briefing Room. Now CPJ intends to take its report launch behind closed doors in clubhouse the UN gives UN, its UN Censorship Alliance, publicized only to those who pay UNCA money.

  The new Free UN Coalition for Access challenges all this - and CPJ's corporate and selective advocacy for only some journalism. It is a tuxedo approach such as on display in DC.

   Back on February 14, 2013 when CPJ came to the UN Press Briefing Room to “launch” its annual report on press freedom Inner City Press asked them, not for the first time, about the UN's own treatment of the full range of journalists, their right to access the UN and to due process if challenged. Video here, from Minute 29:12.

  As example, Inner City Press noted the UN limiting accreditation by geography and to those who abide by the “principles of the Organization,” and total lack of due process rules for journalists on complaints as those filed against Inner City Press in 2012 by Voice of America, Reuters' Louis Charbonneau and the “UN Correspondents Association” for which he spoke on Thursday. Video here, from Minute 12:04.

  Rob Mahoney of CJP, who had begun the press conference by saying “we look to the UN” on these issues, declined to comment on the "internal dynamics of the UN's accreditation process," saying he doesn't know enough about it since he focuses on "international press freedom issues." Video here, from Minute 30:40.

  But aren't unfair rules of the UN worldwide in denying access to journalists "international press freedom issues"? And how can you "look to the UN" to help if you don't first look AT the UN?

  While Charbonneau's UNCA in mid-2012 initiated a process against Inner City Press citing an article it wrote about Sri Lanka (and UNCA, see here), Inner City Press received death threats from supporters of the Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka.

  Inner City Press asked UNCA to stop or at least suspend its process; this was refused, including by Charbonneau, who told Inner City Press to “go to the NYPD.”

Remembering CPJ's Bob Dietz' focus on Sri Lanka, Inner City Press wrote to him and CPJ's Joel Simon. The response came from CPJ's Americas Research Associate Sara Rafsky:

Thank you very much for alerting us about your situation. At the moment, the Americas program is swamped with urgent cases... Thus it will most likely be some time before I can look into your case.”

  These was no follow up by CPJ. The New York Civil Liberties a month later, citing the complaint against Inner City Press, asked the UN to state its due process rules, which the UN has yet to do.

   The  Free UN Coalition for Access, on behalf of which Inner City Press thanked Mahoney and his largely silent panel for coming, is pursuing changes to the UN's archaic and exclusionary accreditation rules and Media Access Guidelines.

   UNCA's, and Charbonneau's, response was to tear down flyers on the topic. Atop UNCA again is Giampaolo Pioli the past president who, after renting one of his apartments to Palitha Kohona, later granted Kohona's request as Sri Lanka's ambassador to screen that government's war crimes denial film "Lies Agreed To" inside the UN, under the UNCA banner. Inner City Press reported on it, was told to remove the article from the Internet or face expulsion from the UN. That is censorship, and CPJ was informed: but partners with UNCA. This is not press freedom.

   Then on February 12, 2014  when CPJ its "Attacks on the Press" report online, under the heading Africa there were pages on Tanzania and Swaziland, for example, but none on South Sudan or Mali.

  CPJ's Joel Simon began the February 12, 2014 "launch" press conference by explaining why it was held at the United Nations (he cited countries trying to use the UN to control the Internet). Inner City Press when called on asked if CPJ thinks the UN Peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Mali do enough to combat crackdowns on the press there, for example the Salva Kiir government seizing a complete issue of the Juba Monitor, and theats against MaliActu.. 

 Now we wonder, including on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, what CPJ thinks of the UN bureau chief of Reuters, with essentially a permanent seat on UNCA board, mis-using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to get Google to block access to a leaked anti-Press complaint to the UN from its search. Isn't that censorship?

CPJ & Reuters current and former, Feb 14, 2013 (c) MRLee

   The problem here is that groups like CPJ like to use the UN to “launch” their reports. Mahoney joked with two separate Reuters reporters: click here, here and here for three (of many) documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reflecting Reuters and the UN.

Reuter's Charbonneau shakes with Ban: on what? (c) Luiz Rampelloto

  CPJ or at least Mahoney seem to assume that Big Media like Reuters (and Agence France Presse, click here) can do no wrong. But that is not the case. Watch this site.

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