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UN Details Myanmar Vague Media Law While UN Has No Rules or Due Process While Banning Press

By Matthew Russell Lee, CJR Letter PFT Q&A

UNITED NATIONS GATE, September 11– How does the UN and the media organization to which it gave the exclusive to select Antonio Guterres to rule it go from the slogan “Journalism Is Not A Crime” and similarly using the censorious treatment of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar to getting a journalist banned for life from the UN for daring to criticize them in a live-streamed broadcast including a single use of a profanity, in a sound-proofed focus booth? Below is the story of Al Jazeera at the UN, of Secretary General Antonio Guterres and his Spokesman Stephane Dujarric lying about the incident and Alison Smale using it to ban Inner City Press for life. But first, a contrast of the new Human Rights Commissioner statements on report and how it should be applied to the UN itself: Doctor, heal thyself. From Geneva September 11, on the conviction of "Kyaw Soe Oo and Thet Oo Maung, was a particularly outrageous and high-profile example of judicial harassment against the media in Myanmar, the report details a number of other examples of detentions and prosecutions of journalists and their sources indicative of wider trends  of suppression of freedom of expression. Laws on telecommunications, official secrets, unlawful associations, electronic transactions and even import-export and aircraft acts have been used against journalists in a number of cases over the years, the report states.

In one case, three journalists were among seven men arrested in June 2017 for covering an event to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in an area under the control of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in northern Shan state. Even though the journalists from The Democratic Voice of Burma and The Irrawady were covering a “drug burning” ceremony unrelated to the armed conflict, they were charged under the Unlawful Associations Act, which is “routinely used to allege that any contact with an ethnic armed group is tantamount to a criminal offence.”

“The fact that the three journalists were covering activities by TNLA that were unconnected to the conflict highlights the military’s sensitivity towards any independent reporting on ethnic armed groups or from non-government controlled territory, and illustrates how promptly the authorities consider that journalists have overstepped the boundary between what they consider as acceptable and impermissible reporting,” the report states. The charges were dropped after the men had spent 67 days in detention.

In another case, two Kachin Baptists were arrested in December 2016 under the same law for assisting journalists who had travelled to northern Shan State to report on the conflict there, the report states. They were held incommunicado for several weeks and eventually received prison sentences of two years and three months under the Unlawful Associations Act as well as the Import-Export Law 2012 – the latter related to their alleged use of unlicensed motorbikes, the report states.

The Telecommunications Law, the Penal Code Section 500 and the Electronic Transactions Law, which all contain articles criminalizing defamation, effectively also grant private individuals the power to stifle expression, the report adds. The case against Swe Win, editor of the online newspaper Myanmar Now, involved a Facebook post in which he quoted a senior monk as saying that high-profile nationalist month Wirathu had violated the tenets of Buddhism. One of Wirathu’s followers filed a complaint against Swe Win under the Telecommunications Law in March 2017...

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the report laid bare the perilous position of independent journalists in Myanmar.

“Where journalists are jailed for merely visiting an area controlled by an armed group, when their sources are jailed for providing information from conflict zones, and where a Facebook post can result in criminal defamation accusations – such an environment is hardly conducive to a democratic transition,” she said.

“I call on the authorities to cease the legal and judicial harassment of journalists and to initiate a review of ill-defined laws that facilitate attacks on the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.” Agreed - but consider how vague the UN's "rules" are that a journalist can be banned for life for live-broadcasting, or for "visiting" an area like the Vienna cafe in front of the UN Budget Committee meeting. This has been raised to Bachelet since September 1, including to her personal assistant. Now Alison Smale's MALU has "lost" - elsewhere called stolen - Inner City Press journalistic equipment including laptop and camera. The clock is ticking.
On September 3 an Al Jazeera staffer, one involved in censorship at the UN no less, virtue signaled about Myanmar's seven year sentencing, "Outrageous. #Journalismisnotacrime." It shouldn't be a crime. But let's not forget that Al Jazeera's funder, Qatar, sentenced poet Mohammed ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami to life imprisonment for insulting the Emir and relented only after push-back on #PoetryIsNotACrime. And this:

  On August 17, after already having suspended Inner City Press' access to the UN for 45 days, Guterres' Under Secretary for Global Communications Alison Smale issued a letter banning Inner City Press for life. The letter accuses Inner City Press - without providing any opportunity to be heard or to rebut - of “conduct on United Nations premises toward other accredited UN correspondents and media outlets including videos / live broadcasts using profanities and derogatory assertions toward them without due regard to their dignity, privacy and integrity, in violations of the Guidelines.” Pg 3 (iv).

   This is a reference to Inner City Press, finding that Guterres' Spokesman Dujarric was giving a  private press briefing in the UN Press Briefing Room on June 19 on a topic it had asked about, Guterres' response to the US dropping out of the UN Human Rights Council. In the hallway, after having to get one of Smale's minders to even try to find out what was being said in the Press Briefing Room which is suppose to be open to all journalists, Inner City Press called the process a “sleazefest.”

  The reference was to Dujarric, using responses to other journalists' questions as an exclusive reward to favored pro-UN outlets. It is media critique and it is disgusting that Dujarric and Smale, for Guterres and it seems Al Jazeera, would move to ban Inner City Press for life for it.

  Notably, the US Press Freedom Tracker, belatedly reporting on Guterres' UN crusade against Inner City Press, recounted from 2016 that “There is no love lost between Lee and UNCA. Lee joined UNCA shortly after he began covering the UN in 2005, but left the association on bad terms in 2012 after reporting on a potential conflict of interest involving UNCA’s then-president. [Giampaolo Pioli renting one of his apartments to Palitha Kohona then later unilaterally granting him, as Sri Lanka's Ambassador, an UNCA screening of a war crimes denial film.] The UNCA meeting was held on January 29, 2016, in the UN media briefing room, which is open to all accredited journalists at the United Nations. Although UNCA wanted to use the briefing room to hold a members-only meeting, Lee insisted that he had the right to stay in the briefing room and even to livestream the meeting. UNCA complained to UN staff, who eventually cajoled Lee to leave.In the aftermath of that incident, the UN stripped Lee of his 'resident correspondent' status, making him a non-resident correspondent. Lee lost his office and his carte blanche access to the UN headquarters building.”

  The UN Press Briefing Room is supposed to be “open to all accredited journalists at the UN.” But at least two times, Dujarric has not followed this, and both times Inner City Press has contested it. Today's UN is a racket, or  sleazefest: if one stands up to Guterres' Dujarric and the media given an exclusive for Guterres' election, Al Jazeera, first you get evicted from your office, than banned for life. A sleazefest indeed.

   As Inner City Press' Periscope, here, clearly shows, it did utter the F word until it was in the sound proofed focus booth. Dujarric and the Al Jazeera trio only heard it later, on re-broadcast. To go looking to feel insulted or even harassed is pathetic. It is, in fact, censorship.

  After Dujarric misrepresented the incident to the Columbia Journalism Review, Inner City Press reached out to a range of Al Jazeera correspondents, many of whom follow Inner City Press on Twitter and use its information. Despite the slogan “Journalism Is Not A Crime” not a single one has yet responded, even as this trumped up incident has been converted by Smale into a basis to ban Inner City Press for life. Those contacted and not yet responding now despite the lifetime ban include, sadly, Haru Mutasa, Saad Abedine, the genial Gabriel Elizondo, Ragobeere, Kristen Saloomey who was working on the Michael Cohen plea deal on August 21, Simon Tate and Gladys Njoroge. Those responsible on June 19 were James Bays and Whitney Hurst, now for Inner City Press banned from 49 days, briefing, and prospectively the UNGA high level week. Journalism is not a crime? And in terms of “without due regard to their dignity, privacy and integrity” check out the UNCA “leaders” on August 20 at the first Dujarric briefing after Smale's lifetime ban on Inner City Press laughing at about it, in a briefing Inner City Press was prohibited from attending and asking questions at. We'll have more on this.Does the UN use its partners in state media including from the Gulf to justify its attacks and banning of the critical Press, or does the UN do it for them? This is the question about and to Al Jazeera. Two weeks after banning Inner City Press from entering the United Nations, which has closely and critically covered for a decade, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' "Global Communicator" Alison Smale for the first time deigned to explain in writing her basis for the ban, or suspension of privileges, citing Inner City Press' "incivility." This was ghoulish, applied to Inner City Press as its arm was twisted by Guterres' UN Security saying loudly, "I am a journalist!" But now Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric has gone further, in an article published July 30 by the Columbia Journalism Review. Dujarric - who Inner City Press directed to the CJR reporter to - is quoted that " Lee Periscoped while shouting, 'Fuck you!' repeatedly. (Lee says he was complaining that Dujarrac had given the Al Jazeera crew a private interview, and excluded him.) 'He creates an atmosphere of incivility within our working environment,' Dujarrac says.

That was a lie. Inner City Press on June 19 when Dujarric gave a "private briefing" to Al Jazeera's James Bays and producer Whitney Hurst about Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo announcing the US pull out from the UN Human Right Council said in the hall that is was a "sleazefest." After closing the door of the focus booth it has been confined to work in for two years by Dujarric, and long after the Al Jazeera trio including James Bayes and Whitney Hurst were done, said on Periscope, F-You. Periscope video - still online during this 27 day "investigation" - here.

So Dujarric is a censor, justifying the beating up and banning of a journalist for something he broadcast in a soundproof booth to his audience. This is disgusting, all the more so because as Inner City Press has reported, Dujarric told an interlocutor on June 20, before the two beat-downs of Inner City Press, that things would be worse for it. Guterres and Dujarric and it seems Smale are.. thugs. But what about Al Jazeera? Inner City Press is informed that its "Diplomatic Editor" James Bays has, in the 30 days Inner City Press has been fully banned from the UN, repeatedly trashed it, despite his profession of "Journalism Is Not A Crime." So Inner City Press wrote to one of his predecessors as AJE UN reporter, Kristen Saloomey, gently asking for advice on how to request equal time on Al Jazeera which previously had Inner City Press on for example on its scoop about the UN's (bogus) plans in Libya, here. But no answer. So Inner City Press moved on by public e-mail to Simon Tate, Haru Mutasa,  Cristina Martinez, Gladys Njoroge, and even ragobeere, alfarram, pricea and gallog, all at aljazeera.net. Tellingly, nothing. No response at all. Journalism is not a crime? It is impossible, more than ever, to get an answer from Dujarric: he is off on a vacation from July 27 through August 14. It is particularly noteworthy given that, not without controversy, the UN gave Al Jazeera and Bays the "exclusive" for the debates by which Guterres over his female rivals grabbed the Secretary General position, one of Inner City Press' stories here. And, just to begin to wider the circle, after Inner City Press audibly from its current UN Delegates Entrance stakeout raised the issue to the BBC's New York correspondent Nick Bryant, a day later he was praising the/his UK Mission on camera giving out a cake, saying that at the UN journalists are "generally" not treated like an enemy of the people. Really? We've asked more. And it's no more hypocritical, in fact less, than Reuters which loudly demands the freedom of those it has used in Myanmar, whom Inner City Press supports, while actively urging the UN to evict and ban Inner City Press - watch this site.

 Guterres' Communicator Alison Smale wrote: “On two recent occasions, Mr. Lee violated th[e] Media Guidelines by attempting to access United Nations premises beyond the scope of his non-resident correspondent status and by confrontations with United Nations Security and Safety officials. While you have characterized these confrontations as being unprovoked, the relevant facts do not support that characterization. Furthermore, according to the above-mentioned Media Guidelines:

'Where unexpected circumstances arise, the approach will be to avoid confrontation, maintain civility and find the fastest, safest and most secure acceptable solution. Those Correspondents who violate the ground rules governing access, including the abovementioned standards of ethical behavior may have their accreditation withdrawn or suspended by the United Nations.'

As a result of Mr. Lee's recent actions in violation of the Media Guidelines and his unacceptable comportment when dealing with United Nations Security and Safety officials, Mr. Lee's privileges of access to the premises of the United Nations as a non-resident correspondent have been suspended. These privileges of access will remain suspended pending a review of this matter to determine what further action, if any, should be be taken with respect to such privileges.”

With the ban on Inner City Press now hitting three weeks, and Smale having left on a three week vacation, there is much to be said about her reasons. First, in other of the two occasions, Inner City Press was within the Guidelines, which state that “Non-Resident Correspondents can access UNHQ through the Visitors’ Entrance at 46th Street and 1st Avenue between 0800-1900 hours from Monday through Friday. Non-resident Correspondents only have access to UNHQ on weekends or after hours accompanied by a resident correspondent or when a meeting is advised as taking place. Entry will be allowed two hours prior to the start of the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, the non-Resident correspondent must exit the premises within an hour, unless accompanied by a resident correspondent.”

On June 22 Inner City Press was pushed out of the UN by UN Lieutenant Ronald E. Dobbins, irregularities in whose promotion Inner City Press has reported on in a previous years, based on a UN Security e-email leaked to it, through the General Assembly lobby in which it was covering an event, listened in Smale's Department's Media Alert, which featured a speech by Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Dobbins called in four Emergency Response Unit officers who refused to give their names when Inner City Press asked.

On July 3 - after Inner City Press has complained in writing to Guterres about its improper ouster on June 22 including Dobbins' animus and the ERU officers' refusals to give their names - Dobbins and other still unnamed officer assaulted Inner City Press as it was covering a UN Budget Committee meeting, announced or advised to it by the UN Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly. The meeting concerned Guterres' $6.7 billion budget and proposed moving of UN jobs from New York to Mexico City, Uganda to Kenya and Geneva to Budapest. Inner City Press' reporter's laptop was smashed into his backpack, damaging it. His shirt was torn and his arm was pulled, then twisted.

Most ghoulishly, Smale's July 19 explanation to the Government Accountability Project claims that if a person being thus assaulted by UN Security speaks up, saying loudly “I am a journalist!” they are being uncivil, justifying a suspension of entry for three weeks and counting.

The “review” that Smale cited included in these three weeks, as to Inner City Press, a single one hour interrogation on July 10 in a basement room across from the UN by UN Security officers Raughn Perry and Valentin Stancu. Perry asked questions, only about the July 3 ouster and refused to include in his write-up Inner City Press allegation of retaliatory animus by UN Lieutenant Dobbins or that Inner City Press had informed Guterres (and Smale) of it on June 25 before the July 3, making each of them partially responsible.

In the weeks since that “interview” by UN Security, nothing, and not only Smale but also Guterres went on vacation, with his Spokesman now three times refusing to answer Inner City Press' written questions as to where, and how much the public is paying.

We'll have more, much more, on this.

***

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