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As UN Gives Top Info Post to Gallach, Access & Transparency in Balance

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 4 -- After a months-long process, on which Inner City Press last reported on November 27, the UN on December 4 announced that the new Under Secretary General for the Department of Public Information will be Cristina Gallach of Spain.

  She was previously a journalist and so, unlike some other UN office holders and seekers, should not be adverse to reporting on how such decisions are made, or at least among whom the UN chooses. Inner City Press listed candidates, including her (as "Spanish, in the media department of the EU delegation").

  Frankly, the UN itself should have put out a short list, as was done at times under Kofi Annan. When Ms. Gallach arrives and begins, advocacy for improvements in transparency will be one test of her performance.

  So too will be acknowledging the DPI must engage with the full range of people covering and interested in the UN, and not only the partial and dubious UN Correspondent Association. Her predecessor Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal made steps in this direction, including taking input from the new Free UN Coalition for Access and beyond. With new media only expanding, Ms. Gallach must go further. She worked for EFE, in Brussels (1993-1996) and in Moscow (1990-1992), with El Periodico, (Barcelona 1986-1990) and Avui (US 1984-1986). We'll have more on this.

The resignation of Baroness Valerie Amos as UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs on November 26, after UK Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly “nominated” Andrew Lansley as her replacement to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the G20 meeting in Brisbane has highlighted the lack of transparency in UN appointments.

  As Inner City Press exclusively reported in 2011, and again on November 26, when the USG position atop UN Peacekeeping was vacated by Alain Le Roy, already the third Frenchman in a row in the post, Herve Ladsous was opaquely dumped on the UN and has been an uncommunicative disaster since. Video compilation here, Vine here.

  Now Inner City Press and the new Free UN Coalition for Access, for comparison and in the interest of increased transparency in and about the UN, will exclusively report on the race to fill the USG position atop the UN Department of Public Information, which has been vacant for months.

   The Free UN Coalition for Access has been following the process but this reporting is triggered by the UN Deputy Spokesperson's claim to Inner City Press that the Amos / UK post is “"open to people from any region.”

Since vacated by Austria's Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal at the beginning of the summer, longtime UN staff member Maher Nasser from Palestine has been acting chief of DPI. During this interim period he has, for positive example, provided on the record comment about the UN's policy on unpaid internships being sold, here. Nasser is a candidate to assume the position formally.

  Another UN system official, Eric Falt, is also in the running. Some question whether with Ladsous still USG for Peacekeeping, France can have two “front line” UN position, particularly given Ladsous' notorious performance on questions of information and communication. Falt, now at UNESCO, was previously Director of DPI's Outreach branch so, like Nasser, he has experience. (Falt has previously been public about his applying or not applying for posts, which one hopes can continue in this case.)

  Indicative of the UN's lack of transparency -- this “short list” is being provided by the Free UN Coalition for Access, since the UN itself has refused -- there is in the mix a candidate described in UN Headquarters simply as “the lady from Brussels," nationality French or more likely Spanish, in the media department of the EU delegation. There is also, it is said, former DPI official Ahmad Fawzi, who since service as then envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi's spokesman has been around the UN in a capacity that, if he is running, should be explained and would happily be published.

  There are also several current Ambassadors at the UN vying for the job. Romania's Permanent Representative Simona Miculescu is a candidate, quite visible and voluble within the UN; she has for example commented publicly on her country's position on Kosovo and impact of the International Monetary Fund, here. She is one of the five “Singing Ambassadors” and a member of the Cigar Smoking Club, which recently met and smoke farewell to Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative Alexander Pankin. (As Inner City Press reported yesterday, Pankin is being succeeded by Petr Iliichev, click here for that).

  It's also said that non-interviewed aspirants include the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic and the Deputy Permanent Representative Saudi Arabia, personally not UNopen and with GCC letters of support but given the the country's or Kingdom's treatment of bloggers, Tweeters and other free speechers, some would find this ironic. But this is the UN. Watch this site.

Footnote: Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access has repeatedly publicly asked, in the UN noon briefing and on its walls, that those who interact with the UN Department of Public Information, including all accredited and not only “resident” correspondents and others who cover the UN, should have input into this process, at least into the criteria to be used for selection.

  This has been for now rejected by the UN Secretariat, and even by some in-house, insider correspondents, who are putting forward as their repeat chief a rarely present Italian correspondent who has demanded the censorship of articles, for himself about Sri Lanka and during his tenure atop the United Nations Correspondents Association, about Herve Ladsous.

  This is another reason the UN remains so UNtransparent, even on this “Public Information” post. The Free UN Coalition for Access aims to hold the UN to its stated principles, on this and other issues.


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