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At UN, Ban's Held No Presser Since 2014, ICP Asks Why, Is Told To Go to State Dep't

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 10 -- At the UN, transparency and access are in decline, due to collusion. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has not held a Q&A press conference at the UN since December 17, 2014 -- more than eight months ago, after at least a monthly press conference was promised.

  Instead, Ban and his team dole out quotes to favor media, apparently conditioned on positive or at least not negative coverage. On September 9 Ban's Spokesperson's Office sent out a photo of Ban with New York 1, talking about the Pope's visit. Ban's deputy told a rarely seen Italian journalist, the landlord president of the old UN Correspondents Association (now known at the UN's Censorship Alliance), that the Nobel Peace Prize should go to... the Italian Navy. There were and are things to be reported, but they are not. Yet.

  On September 10, Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked Ban's Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, video here, transcript here:

Inner City Press:  I’ve noticed in recent days that the Secretary-General has done a series of interviews, with the Guardian, ITV, maybe New York 1.  So one thing I wanted to know is, I went to the web page, and I looked at press conferences, and at least… Q&A press conferences in this room.  And the last one that I find is from December 2014.  So is that the case?  Is that… is there something…?

Spokesman Dujarric:  Well, I mean, since you are in this room every time there’s an event, I think you probably have a pretty good record…

Inner City Press:  How would you explain this, eight months, when it was said that he would do it every month?

Spokesman:  I… I think the Secretary-General, whenever he travels, has had press engagements.  I mean, he is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  So he does engage with the press globally wherever he goes.  We also organize one-on-one interviews throughout the year.  He also does press stakeouts when we feel there’s a need and when he feels there is a need to do a stakeout.  There was one not too long ago.  And he does press conferences.  There are an army of tools in our toolbox in order for the Secretary-General to engage in the press.  A press conference in this room is just one of many.

Inner City Press:  And this is the… kind of procedural question is other… you know, I’m thinking of John Kerry, but I’m sure this is true in other countries as well.  One, they do globally and in their headquarters.  But they also… the spokespeople office for these people put out… they’ll say, this interview took place and will air then.  Sometimes they’ll put out transcripts.  How are we to know what was said?

Spokesman:  You could also spend more days at the State Department.  We all work differently.

Inner City Press:  Right.  No, but what’s your reasoning for doing it — given there’s a whole world interested in what Ban Ki-moon says, why not make it more available?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General is extremely available to the press.

Inner City Press / FUNCA:  I disagree respectfully.

Spokesman Dujarric:  There you go.  I disagree respectfully as well.

  The UN props up as its "adversary" a group it buys off with faux access.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access takes a different approach: UN officials like Peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous should take questions from the media which cover peacekeeping. He should have to answer about the peacekeeper rape scandal.

In late June Ban's security detail ejected the Press from an open meeting in which Ban spoke to UN Peacekeeping force commanders. That ejection was at the demand of Ladsous, who now rather than speaking at the UNTV stakeout like his predecessors summons a few friendly journalists to whom to deliver or deposit "news." The new Free UN Coalition for Access challenged this; the old UN Correspondents Association says nothing, as its past and current leadership takes advantage of, or doesn't care about, the lack of access.

  Given these trends, discontent within UNCA rank and file led to the release of these [annotated] minutes of a July 13 meeting of UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance:

"Giampaolo Pioli (Chair), more proxies than present

"Giampaolo announced dinner at Cipriani Wall Street, "special discount price of $100." Site was selected because of SG’s schedule and space availability. Honorees include Prince Albert of Monaco and most likely Leonardo DiCaprio whose final confirmation is expected in August. UNCA members were encouraged to apply for the media awards [No conflict there, of course]. 

Security arrangements for the upcoming UNGA:  Green Ps will not have to wait in the same line as those seeking accreditation... High speed internet issues: a possible solution is having a separate access code for media center reporters in the NLB. [UNCA seems most concerned with obtained more privileges than other journalists.]

 UNSC stakeout: No access to the council when meetings are not being held, but reporters can move there before meetings once UN TV sets up. [UNCA "leaders" have tried to limit other journalists like this before: FUNCA resists it.]

 Reporters will be able to pay for high speed internet and access to other Time Warner channels for a fee. Anyone who wants to subscribe to TW needs to inform Melanie by email in order to provide a list to the installers. [So UNCA is a middleman, purportedly for all journalists, for corporate Time Warner?]

 Review of procedures for holding UNCA press conferences: It was decided that UNCA will be more selective in hosting press conferences and will focus on subjects and speakers that are a big draw. Meeting adjourned at 5:00 pm. It was followed by a wine and cheese reception."

  UNCA "press conferences" have degenerated into Italian book club events; previously, Pioli hosted his former tenant Palitha Kohona to screen a video denying war crimes in Sri Lanka, then used the organization to demand a Press article about it be removed from the Internet. This is the UN Censorship Alliance.

The invitation, which even most UNCA members ignored, said "At the end of the meeting, we will have a glass of wine to wish everyone a good summer vacation."

  Whether the Hamptons or the Amalfi coast, when UN press access is in decline, it time to share a glass of wine.

 2015 opened with Ladsous openly refused to answer Press questions, video here.

  "Leadership" of the UN Correspondents Association, far from questioning this, took advantage by grabbing two qeustions, just as UNCA demands and most often wastes side-aside first questions at UN press conferences.

  The following day, January 23, there was a UN Security Council meeting about human rights and UN Peacekeeping missions, including MONUSCO. But the meeting was closed to the public and press. Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked and asks, Why? The old United Nations Correspondents Association, on the other hand, not only doesn't protest such closures - it scheduled its only "faux fighters" meeting for exactly the same time.

  This decayed UN Correspondents Association, run by president Giampaolo Pioli who has himself demanded censorship, held its annual meeting on January 23, and even by its own account, not a work about access problems or lack of information.

Here was the agenda, annotated, now with "minutes" as provided by disgruntled members who say the UN "makes" them pay UNCA, added in italics:

Space, "including journalists on the waiting list for office space" -- on January 23, UNCA's "leadership" said that "that after meeting with DPI working space on the 4th floor will become available to 6-8 journalists beginning in February."

  Even or especially if this representation is true, there is a problem: UNCA is essentially selling or trying to sell these UN spaces. UNCA tells correspondents that if they pay money to join it, they will be helped in getting office space from the UN. Is this proper?

Less than a quarter of those UNCA took $66,485 from attended this meeting; numerous Executive Committee members did not attend. Pioli bragged of "a larger number of sponsors," but the minutes did not list them. There'll be more on this.

  Meanwhile, UNCA leadership is proposal to downgrade some with "white" UN passed to "green," requiring them to go through a separate entrance and metal detectors. UNCA is responsible for Banning many from entry into the UN.

"UNCA room activities, press conferences and events for 2015" -- Pioli in his last tenure granted the Ambassador of Sri Lanka Palitha Kohona, a former tenant of Pioli in one of his Manhattan apartments, the use of UNCA to screen inside the UN a film denying Rajapaksa government war crimes. It was reporting about this that Pioli ordered Inner City Press to remove from the Internet. There have been no reforms since.

  Now UNCA brags that HRW will use or be used by its space. This is shameful - and we'll have more on it. Pioli sat in on the January 26 noon briefing, apparently to see if any of these outrages would be aired, typically asking no questions at all.

"Social media" - despite Ban's UN purporting to use UNCA to reach all journalists at the UN, the Press is blocked from UNCA's moribund social media presence. Is this attributable to all 15 Executive Committee members? Just Pioli?

 On January 23, Pioli said that the Reuters correspondent who grabbed two questions after Ladsous said "I don't respond to your questions Mister" is in charge of UNCA tweets.

"UNCA soccer" - this involved providing a craven photo op for, yes, Ban Ki-moon

"UNCA Awards 2015" - in December 2014, UNCA gave out an award about Haiti with no mention of the UN bringing cholera there, or UN peacekeepers shooting at democracy demonstrators. Ban Ki-moon was in attendance and they had him take pictures with another of their awardees, which was mischaracterized as  UN award. As with office space, it seems that UNCA sells the UN.

   Similar to the claim that UN labor issues are handed in happy one-way meeting with staff during country visits, it is with this that it seems the UN will partner to say it has listened on media access issues.

  After the September 2014 General Assembly week UNCA "minutes" and partial list of grievances were provided to FUNCA by one of UNCA's many disgruntled members. They are laughable. The ejection of non-French journalists from the UN Briefing Room was not mentioned, nor the physical blocking of filming.

  Instead, UNCA complains that there is too much news during the General Assembly -- they want fewer side events -- and apparently too many journalists at the UN: they want a private wi-fi password leaving the current open wi-fi only for "guests and others."

  Tellingly, one of the UNCA proposals is for a booklet co-signed by Ban Ki-moon and UNCA.

  With this bogus list and presumably seeking that booklet, they say that the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit proposes to meet only with their Executive Committee. This is akin to a fake wrestling match, in which the two sides pretend to fight, for an audience.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told MALU, but repeats: if they even aspire to legitimacy, the UN must reach out to all journalists, at the UN and ideally beyond, and not that subset which pay UNCA money. That is a decidedly partial subset: a fake wrestling match.

 The UN while throwing out media from workspace gives its UN Censorship Alliance a large room, which it then limits to those that pay it money in dues. Here's how it works: a new media at the UN is told, from the pinnacle of the UN's Censorship Alliance, to pay UNCA $90 and UNCA will get the UN to give the media UN office space.

     Today's UN Censorship Alliance is unlikely to get any meaningful media access problem addressed -- members its Executive Committee have, in fact, caused or colluded in many of the decreases in access. They drafted a rule with MALU to eliminate journalist workspace at the Security Council stakeout; they withheld audio tapes and transcripts of a Ban "interview" with them, even from their own members.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access targeted these censorship practices in a September 29 flier, online, in the UN including on the "open" bulletin board it got the UN to install (the flier was torn down, one can only imagine by whom, but has gone back up.)


   The French-only briefing was described on HuffPost Live, here.)

Footnote: as noted the old UN Correspondents Association, which is given privileged status and set-aside first questions nearly always used for softballs, has done nothing in recent years to improve or even defend press access. In fact, members of UNCA's Executive Committee have tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, and there have been no reforms since. It's become the UN's Censorship Alliance. They provide Ban Ki-moon with photo ops playing soccer with them. This is today's UN - and FUNCA is fighting to hold the UN to its stated principles.


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