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Censorship Omitted From UN Study of Internet Access by ITU, No Comment on Cuba, Dissident's Death

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 24 -- Access to the Internet in 161 countries was compared by the UN's International Telecommunications Union in a recent report, Measuring the Information Society 2010. Inner City Press asked ITU's Susan Teltscher whether her agency considered the quality and content of the internet provided -- that is, censorship -- noting the exclusion from the final data tables of such countries as Turkmenistan, Cuba and North Korea.

 Ms. Teltscher said that ITU did not consider internet censorship. Why not? It "cannot be captured in statistics," she replied. Video here, from Minute 18:18.

  To some, any UN study of access to the Internet should take into account the varieties of Internet censorship, from China's Great Firewall to more total bans in countries like North Korea. The press conference's moderator, ITU's New York representative, said that the ITU like the rest of the UN system supports Article 19, on access to information across frontiers in all media.

  But when Ban Ki-moon's two envoys Lynn Pascoe and Kim Won-soo recently visited Pyongyang, they did not even raise the issue of press and internet freedom. Click here for that story. Likewise, in November 2009 when protesters raised a banner about China's net blocking at a UN conference in Egypt, UN security removed the banner. Click here for that story.

It is important that someone study the pricing of Internet access. But an entirely amoral investment bank could do that, as a business proposition. For the UN to fail to include some measure or mention of censorship in its more than 100 page study of 
ITU's Susan Teltscher on Feb. 23, internet censorship not shown

Footnote: while Cuba was omitted from the ITU final tables, on February 24 UN spokesman Martin Nesirky was asked:

Question: On Cuba, yesterday, a Cuban political prisoner called Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 85 days on hunger strike in prison. And people in Cuba and Latin America in general are very shocked by this event and they consider it as a clear human rights violation. My question is, does the UN have a comment on this issue or will have a comment on this issue?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Secretary-General is aware of the case. We don’t have anything to say at the moment. But he is aware of the case. We don’t have anything to say at the moment.

Question: But will you say something?

Spokesperson Nesirky: I said he doesn’t have anything to say at the moment

Well, Orlando Zapata Tamayo is dead. Even Raul Castro has "lamented" it. But the UN's Ban Ki-moon is aware but silent.

* * *

At UN, CPJ on Pariah States N. Korea and on Sri Lanka, Buying Tickets, Iran's Eye

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 16 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists on February 16 called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to be more forceful about the importance of press freedom. Inner City Press asked CPJ's Asia expert Bob Dietz about what Mr. Ban and CPJ have done as the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has closed down opposition newspapers, reporters have been killed and websites blocked. Video here, from Minute 40:08.

  Dietz said that "no one knows how to handle the direction in which the [Sri Lankan] government is going, which is not friendly to the media." He said it might join the "pariah states" of Myanmar, "Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe," but for feisty journalists who put themselves at risk.

  But as to what CPJ does, Dietz said "right now we are hanging back with a lot of people," trying to figure out whether to "come down hard or engage in quiet advocacy."

  Afterwards, Inner City Press asked Dietz for more specifics about this "quiet" approach, which the UN seems to share, in the most benign interpretation of Ban's visit in May 2009 after what even the UN called the "bloodbath on the beach" and since.

  Even the UN's Children and Armed Conflict mandate, which belatedly sent Patrick Cammaert to Sri Lanka in December, never had him brief the Press afterwards. Radhika Coomaraswamy, when Inner City Press asked her about this silence last week, said that Cammaert went to Europe to get married after his trip, then it was "too late" to brief the press about his visit.

  Dietz said that the opposition press in Sri Lanka asks that particular journalists' cases "not be publicized," as it would only make things worse. "Just get us out of here," Dietz said such journalists ask, adding the CPJ helps with plane tickets.

Another correspondent remarked afterwards is that "quiet advocacy is what diplomats do, not journalists or their organizations."

Masked rally for press freedom in Sri Lanka, Jan 2009, UN and CPJ's tickets out not shown

  Inner City Press asked CPJ's deputy director Robert Mahoney about the UN's own envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah having called on a "moratorium" on Somali journalists reporting on the killing of civilians by the African Union peacekeepers of AMISOM.

  Mahoney said it is up to journalists to make their own editorial decisions. Ironically, Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky has, at least in his first month on the job, said such things as "that's not a story."

   Also on the podium was Newsweek journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari, about whom CNN's Fareed Zakaria devoted the foreword to CPJ's study. As Bahari spoke, a representative from Iran's Mission to the UN sat in the UN press hall's front row, taking notes.

  The Iranian mission has invited UN correspondents -- including this one -- to a celebration of Iran's national day on February 18. Inner City Press told Bahari about the event, encouraging him to come and cover it. Watch this space.

Footnote: three hours after the CPJ press conference on its report, "Attacks on the Press in 2009," which names North Korea as the world's most censored country, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo and political advisor Lynn Pascoe if they had even raised press freedom during their recent trip to Pyongyang. Video here.

  No, Mr. Pascoe said. Inner City Press asked Mr. Kim to respond for Mr. Ban on CPJ's wider call to be more forceful on press freedom. While he answered about UNDP in North Korea, he did not answer on press freedom. Inner City Press has at UN noon briefings asked for Mr. Kim to come and answer questions more often. We'll see.

  In another UN footnote, CPJ's genial Mr. Dietz granted an interview to a student reporter, Melissa Best, whose piece should air as part of WNYC's Radio Rookies program. Ms. Best, who aspired to be a US diplomat, told Inner City Press that North Korea's nuclear ambitions might call for more stick and less carrots. The show should air -- and Internet -- in June...

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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