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As Philippines Censors Rappler, Inner City Press Asked at UN, Now Geneva Trio Speaks

By Matthew Russell Lee, Photo

UNITED NATIONS, January 25 – After Philippines authorities revoked the license of online publication The Rappler, Inner City Press on January 15 asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' Spokesman Stephane Dujarric if the UN would say or do anything about it. Video here, from 12:24, UN transcript here: Inner city Press: in the Philippines, the investigative online publication the Rappler has had its license revoked by the Duterte Government today.  It’s a well-known…Spokesman:  [cutting in] Listen, we stand… as a matter of principle, for freedom of the press and of free media." Dujarric replied with a platitude: the UN supports press freedom. But does it? The UN in New York evicted and restricts the Press. Now ten days later, with nothing further from Guterres or his reclusive "Global Communicator" Alison Smale, this from the UN in Geneva: "The Philippines Government must halt moves to shut down independent news website Rappler, a group of UN human rights experts have said. “We are gravely concerned that the government is moving to revoke Rappler’s licence,” said the three Special Rapporteurs in a joint statement. “Rappler’s work rests on its own freedom to impart information, and more importantly its vast readership to have access to its public interest reporting,” the UN experts said. “As a matter of human rights law, there is no basis to block it from operating. Rappler and other independent outlets need particular protection because of the essential role they play in ensuring robust public debate.” [But the UN Headquarters doesn't live by this standard, and has yet to act on a similar statement, raised again this week to Guterres and Smale.] The UN experts: Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders." the UN in the Central African Republic is making its own threats to get the "communications authorities" of that country to take unspecified action against two publications. See MINUSCA Mission's January 6 press release - UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on January 8 said he hadn't seen it, despite Inner City Press asking him about it in writing on January 6, in connection with reporting on it that day. From the UN's January 8 transcript, video here: Inner City Press: the press release that was put out by MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] denying certain media reports that the peacekeeping Mission gave weapons to… to rebels.  That's not the part I wanted to ask you about.  The press release put out by MINUSCA says that… you know, is very critical of the two media reports and says that MINUSCA stands ready to engage the Government authorities to take appropriate action against the media.  And I wanted to know, what are those actions?  And is there any UN policy on essentially threatening media for its reporting? Spokesman:  I haven't… maybe because I was away, I hadn't seen the press release.  We, obviously, support freedom of the press and freedom of expression.  But, I think, when there are errors in media reports, we will point them out and work with the media concerned to ensure that the reports are corrected."

But here's from the UN's January 6 press release: "MINUSCA is disappointed and deeply concerned that Le Démocrate and L’Expansion amplified claims originating from a private blog... MINUSCA reserves the right to engage the state communication authorities in order to initiate appropriate action." What action? Photo here.

It is not enough, apparently, for today's UN to deny a report and use its mega-phone, with more resources that these CAR media, to put out its story. It has to threaten punishment by the Central African Republic government - at the UN's request - of the media.

The Free UN Coalition for Access says this is UNacceptable. What is the role in this of Secretary General Antonio Guterres' "Global Communicator" Alison Smale, who called getting positive coverage of Guterres' trip to CAR (and Cameroon for a golden statue) her litmus test? The grade of these tests is: FAIL.

This month the UN Correspondents Association is partnering with Kazakhstan, whose new media law is called repressive and draconian, to distribute "national delicacies" every Tuesday and Thursday. Photo here. On January 5, Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: I actually have a different kind of press freedom question.  I wanted to ask you.  In [the United Republic of] Tanzania, the Government has fined a number of TV stations for simply reporting on a report by the legal Human Rights Centre about irregularities in an election and human rights abuses, and I'm wondering.  I know it's one of the countries where the UN has a, you know, a country team, et cetera.  Is the UN aware of that?  Do they have any comment on the open fining of stations simply for… for reporting on human rights issues? Deputy Spokesman:  "I don't have anything in particular on this, but we'll ask with our country team about that." Seven hours later, nothing. And no response from the UN Department of Public Information, whose chief Alison Smale was asked the simplest of questions. No answer, even as she suddenly promotes Kazakhstan stories. More on this to follow.

It's that Kazakhstan is president of the Security Council this month, and UNCA is selling the correspondents it charges a hundred dollars to access, or the illusion of access, however it might appear. In November it was espresso served up by Italy, the country of UNCA's long time landlord president Giampaolo Pioli. Now, it's Kazakhstan. A new and peculiarly UN tradition, of sycophantry, is born. And the Free UN Coalition for Access opposes it. We are certainly open to hearing from the Kazazh Mission its side of the story. But any "press" group which partners to hand out delicacies, and limits information to those who pay it money, is no press organization at all, except in today's UN. Here is RSF's review of Kazakhstan's new law: "Under one of the most controversial amendments, journalists are required to obtain the permission of persons named in their articles before publishing information involving matters of 'personal and family confidentiality.' Investigative journalists fear it could obstruct their reporting, especially coverage of corruption. There is similar concern about a ban on “information violating lawful interests,” which are also not defined. One of the amendments complicates the right of access to state-held information. The length of the time within which officials must answer journalists’ questions is more than doubled, with the result that by the time journalists get their answer, there is every chance it will no longer be newsworthy. Furthermore, officials are also given the right to classify certain answers. Under one of the amendments, Internet users are required to identify themselves before posting a comment on a news website, and their information will be stored for three months. This suggests that there could be a further increase in the number of people being jailed because of their online comments, which has already grown sharply in recent years." But UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance, will be serving up those Kazakh national delicacies for the Mission. In other related news, Iran will be the subject of a UN Security Council meeting of some type on January 5 at 3 pm. There may be a procedural vote - Inner City Press on January 4 asked Russian Ambassador Nebenzia about any Iran meeting and he replied, "Not unless they held one without me." Kazakhstan is the president of the Security Council for January, and just as they refused on January 2 to take a single Press question about Africa (the first question was given as a delicacy to UNCA, which allowed for questions to be bundled in packs of five to be evaded), on January 4 they sent notice only to their favored correspondents. (Notable, given press freedom issues there.) As quickly obtained by Inner City Press from multiple sources, they wrote: "Dear friends, To keep you informed, tomorrow SC meets on Iran at 3.00PM, open format. And a short announcement, our Delegation is delighted to invite you to a Tea and Coffee table with Kazakh national delights, to be served every Tuesday and Thursday, starting from 9 January, 9.30 to 11.30AM, in the UNCA Room, 3d Floor, Secretariat Building. Alma Konurbayeva, Spokesperson / Counsellor, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations." Of what might those "national delights" consist? When Kazazhstan held a press conference about its Presidency of the UN Security Council for January, Ambassador Kairat Umarov began by noting that the majority of the agenda involves countries in Africa: at least seven peacekeeping missions to be reviewed in the month, with Burundi and Cameroon not even listed. But when the Kazakh mission spokeswoman took questions, not a single one was on anything in Africa. There was climate change, from a self-described syndicated columnist. There were questions about two (non-African) countries in the Program of Work's footnotes. But not a single one on anywhere in Africa.

Inner City Press said loudly, “On the DRC did anyone even ask for a statement on the crackdown?” Video here from 44:15. But the Ambassador chose to answer another question, about an issue he called close to Kazakhstan's heart, then ended it.

 He had said, during the press conference, the Kazakhstan has energy resources for the next 100 years. They won the Asia seat over Thailand; apparently that didn't require political resources, at least in Africa. We'll have more on this.

Back in September 2017 with the UN Security Council presidency being taken over by Ethiopia's Tekeda Alemu, Inner City Press on September 1 asked Ambassador Alemu four questions, the answers to which sketch out the Ethopian government's worldview. Video here. In response to Inner City Press asking why Burundi, where even the UN says there is a risk of genocide, is not on his September Program of Work nor on the agenda of the Council's visit to Addis Ababa, Alemu said that you can't compare Burundi to Central African Republic, that Burundi has “strong state institutions.” But it is that very “strength,” which some say the country shares with Ethiopia, and with until recently military-ruled Myanmar about which Inner City Press also asked, that has led to the human rights violations. In this context, Inner City Press asked Alemu about the Oromo protests - and crackdown - in his country. He diplomatically chided Inner City Press for not having asked in private, saying that social media has played a dangerous role. On the other hand, when Inner City Press asked Alemu at the end about the murders of two UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan, he replied that while the DR Congo is due to sovereignty the one to investigate the murders, the gruesome nature of the killings put a “great responsibility” on the DR Congo. We'l have more on this. Alamy photos here. Earlier on September 1 in Alemu's briefing to countries not on the Security Council, Bangladesh specifically asked that the Council remain seized of the situation in Myanmar. When Inner City Press asked Alemu about this, he said he still had to inform himself more about that situation. The Security Council is traveling to Addis from September 5 through 9, when alongside African Union consultations the Council's member will meet for an hour with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Alemu said. The Council will receive the “maiden briefings” late in the month of the new Under Secretaries General of OCHA and on Counter-Terrorism. There will be peacekeeping on September 20, during the High Level week of the UN General Assembly, and Yemen on September 26. But tellingly, there will not be Burundi. Watch this site.


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