Alan Johnston Is One of Many Journalists Held Hostage, For Whom the Drums
Should Be Beaten
Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, May 3 -- BBC journalist Alan Johnston has been held captive
in Gaza for 52 days. On World Press Freedom Day at UN Headquarters, these
fact was heard repeatedly: in a rally in front of the UN, in a lunch
sponsored by UNESCO and, delivered by Alan Johnston's boss Jon Williams, to
a half-dozen reporters on Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Williams was asked if the BBC has received random demands, a
question to which he declined to comment. Well placed diplomatic sources
confirm that such demands have been made. BBC's position, it is said, is
that it would not object to the family paying ransom, but it will not do so
itself, for fear of precedent. A UN source asked Inner City Press, was Alan
Johnson there reporting for his family? Or was it for the BBC?
Inner City Press asked Williams if any other BBC journalists
have been taken hostage. Williams mentioned one case: "in Pakistan last
year, one of our local stringers was abducted for a few days, in the tribal
areas." He said that in the 75 years of the World Service, BBC has "never
previously had a British correspondent kidnapped." Now, he said, "there is
no other Gaza news except for Alan Johnston. It is a test for the unity
government" and the Palestinian Authority.
Some in the press corps grew uncomfortable with distinctions Mr.
Williams made, between British and international journalist on the way hand,
and local reporters, or stringers, or media workers on the other. Inner City
Press asked if any other journalists are currently held hostage in Gaza. "No
international journalists, right now," Williams replied. How about
Palestinians? He said he wasn't sure.
It was pointed out to Williams, with all due respect for Alan
Johnston, that reporters are being killed every week in Iraq. Eleven
reporters are dead from Al Arabia alone, since the beginning of the war in
Iraq. Many others have been taking for ransom.
Mr. Williams said, "I invite the bosses of other journalists who
are abducted or kidnapped or killed to make the same hue and cry that I
have, about Alan Johnston." But smaller and more local media outlets do not
have the same bullhorn. BBC has the drum, and knows how to beat it. But some
do not even have a drum.
The answer is certainly not for BBC to do less to seek the
release of Alan Johnston. BBC should use its drum. But what of the drumless?
Can the drum be shared? It was surprising on Thursday that Jon Williams was
not prepared to address the not-uncommon concern of the disparity in
response to the kidnapping of one British journalists to the killings of
dozens of Arab reporters, and untold additional "local media workers."
A UN correspondent who requested anonymity to not offend the BBC analogized
what the correspondent called the "over-kill" about Alan Johnston to the
response to the seizure of the British sailors in Iran. Another went further
back in history, and even more politically incorrect, to note the difference
in media-time and peacekeeping dollars spent in the (European) former
Yugoslavia to the (African) situations in Rwanda and now, for example,
Inner City Press asked if the BBC has any reporters in South and
Central Somalia, particularly in Mogadishu. No, he said. The BBC Somali
service used to "send people in and out," then withdrew. Are there local
reporters there now? Williams said, "In all honestly, I don't know whether
the BBC has local people reporting for the Somali service... I don't know."
It might be important to find out. And while awaiting the
hopefully-positive resolution of the Alan Johnston case, it might also be
important for the news and media industry, BBC included, to reflect on these
distinctions, between "international journalists" and, by implication less
valuable, "local media workers." Reporters of global news are too well
positioned, seeing the number of deaths and kidnappings in Iraq and Somalia
and elsewhere, to not better address these disparities.
One UN source interviewed by Inner City Press analogized the
situation to "that American girl who went missing in Aruba." Why did CNN
devote some much time to that, and not to the many more women killed in, for
example, Juarez in Mexico?
Another cynic opined that Mr. Williams' presentation, at least
on Thursday afternoon, seemed more calculated to absolve BBC than anything
else. Williams said that risk can never be eliminated, only "managed." He
said that all BBC foreign correspondents get safety training, including on
what a bullet-proof vest can stop, and what it can't.
While Mr. Williams, even when asked if the training is
"military," declined to provide more details,
Reuters has a one-week long program called the "hostile environment"
training course. It is offered by a private security firm comprised, Inner
City Press is told, mostly of "former British special forces types." No one
at Reuters including freelance photographers can go on a posting in a war
zone or any place deemed to be a hostile working environment (like Darfur)
without doing the training, whose cost is estimated at $10,000 each.
Speaking of the importance of (some) press, Mr. Williams said
that in a time when news is "two to a penny... there is a premium on serious
journalism. Where there is so much noise, you need someone to make sense of
it all." And these sense-providers are worth more than the "two to a penny"
(Conclusory) news analysis: Neither World Press Freedom
Day, nor the just campaign to get Alan Johnston freed, have any place for
elitism. It's not that BBC should not beat the drum -- it's that the drum
should be shared.
UN Office: S-453A,
UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439
(and weekends): 718-716-3540
U.S. Highlights Bloggers at the UN, While Keeping Them from Amb. Khalilzad
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, May
3, updated 5:45 p.m. -- While the U.S. Mission to the UN holds a forum
celebrating the "citizen journalists," the UN has no policy for granting
bloggers and other online media access to it meetings and briefings.
again, the U.S. Mission on World Press Freedom Day itself held a
by-invitation-only briefing by new Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and did not
invite or even alert any bloggers. Rather, Inner City Press received from the
U.S. Mission an invitation to the "Citizen Journalist: The Internet as a Tool
for Freedom of Speech" panel, along with an invitation to "blog live" from the
event. Fine. We're here. But to respect bloggers and freedom of speech is not to
create a second tier, where as on the invitation other countries' press
crack-downs can be panned. It is to treat fact-collecting bloggers as reporters,
and grant them access.
at the UN, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed 10 press freedom
backsliders, including a number of countries currently supported by the U.S.. In
the top three backsliders is Ethiopia, to which the U.S. provided military
support in its drive on Mogadishu. Then, the U.S. allowed Ethiopia to import
tank parts from North Korea. Ah, freedom of speech.
Ban and Condi Rice: press access, anyone?
But on to
the panel. The introduction was by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State,
Jeffrey Krilla, who thanked the UN for "accommodating this event." Some wondered
why, on the other hand, the U.S. had made Amb. Khalilzad available at its
Mission, and not in the UN's press briefing room. Bridget Johnson a/k/a
GOP Vixen then cited the CPJ finding that one-third of imprisoned reporters are
online journalists. She turned it back to Krilla, who as it turns out beyond
Democracy, Human Rights and Labor also has corporate social responsibility in
his portfolio at the State Department. Has he raised press freedom to Yahoo,
which turned over to China information about cyber-dissidents, subsequently
arrested? Was Ethiopia's press freedom record considered in connection with the
U.S. support, in connection with the crack-down on Somalia and otherwise? We'll
see, if and when a Q&A session is allowed.
without Borders spoke of new Predators of Press Freedom report, naming Mexico,
Cuba and hostage-takers in Iraq. RwB cites 65 imprisoned cyber-dissidents, 50 of
them in China. (Another panelist, with PointPoint presentation, were Frank Xie,
a practitioner of Falun Gong and Watson Meng of
Boxun News, who also detailed
Yahoo's craven crack-down on dissidents in China.) RwB's Tala Dowlatshahi
mentioned the case in San Francisco of the video blogger imprisoned for months
for not given prosecutors the footage he had shot. Could that have been the Bush
administration's Department of Justice? Even doing research on-the-fly, blogging
from the event itself, it would seem so: the blogger Josh Wolf spent 226 days in
lock-up. Perhaps Mr. Krilla -- or even Amb. Khalilzad or Secretary of State
Condoleeza Rice -- will address these inconsistencies. Developing.
Update of 2:15 p.m.
-- Frank Xie showed his three web sites, two of which his mother in China does
not have access to. China, he says, is exporting its web-blocking technology to
North Korea, Cuba and Sudan.
Nora Younis of Egypt
details Egypt's crackdown on bloggers who cover violence between Muslims and
Copts and, as she did, the beating of Sudanese refugees in Egypt. Meanwhile, Ban
Ki-moon and Condi Rice are in Egypt. Will they mention this? We'll be
Update of 2:35 p.m.
-- Inner City Press asked Nora Younis if the UN is doing enough -- or anything
-- to raise the issue of press and blogger freedom in Egypt. No, she said. The
UN is not doing enough.
Inner City Press
asked Mr. Krilla what the U.S. is doing about Ethiopia's CJP-exposed crackdown
on reporters. "Good question," he said, mentioning that he'd been in Ethiopia a
few weeks ago and that other countries should also apply pressure. But what is
the U.S. doing?
raised the point that Tunisia, which
censor-ware from U.S.-based Secure Computing, blocked full Internet access
even at a UN event -- something on which we hope to have more to report soon.
Update of 2:47 p.m.
-- Mr. Krilla, asked what the U.S. will do about "bloggers" rights, at the UN
and elsewhere, responded that there had been UN "heartburn" about this panel.
From Egypt? From China? If the past holds, neither will even say...
Update of 5:45 p.m.
-- At the exit from the event, the U.S. Department of State distributed a flier,
dated April 30, entitled "U.S. Supports Press Freedom Worldwide." It had lists
of "Countries with Continually Poor Records on Press Freedom" and "Countries
with Deteriorating Conditions for Press Freedom." Ethiopia is not on either U.S.
State Department list, despite being named the worst backslider by
the Committee to Protect Journalists....
On the other
hand, it's to the U.S. Mission's credit that it pushed to hold this panel
discussion, and inside the UN building. Who else would have done it? The UK, for
example, even when it got a briefing on Zimbabwe, consented that it be limited
to humanitarian issues, and has yet to follow up on it. That said, not only is
the U.S. for example trying to have it two ways with Ethiopia, it's own Mission
to the UN falls short of Republic of Congo, Peru, Russia and China in that U.S.
Ambassador Khalilzad has to date refused to hold a press conference on his plan
of work as Security Council president for the month of May. Every other recent
Council presidency has held such a press conference, allowing the press --
blogger(s) included -- to ask about what's on the agenda, and what's not. But
the U.S. falls short, and has yet to provide any explanation. Developing (it is
and other Journalists Under Attack by Governments and even the UN, on Press
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, May 2
-- One third of the reporters currently imprisoned by governments worldwide are
online journalists, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect
Journalists. In a briefing to the UN press corps on Wednesday, CPJ deputy
director Robert Mohoney said his organization is calling high-tech companies to
task, specifically in light of Yahoo's decision to give the Chinese government
email records of a
was speaking at the UN, Inner City Press asked Mr. Mahoney if the Department of
Peacekeeping Operations, which has for years had a 20,000 person presence in the
press-benighted Democratic Republic of the Congo, could be doing more to promote
the principles of press freedom. Inner City Press asked, What should the UN
system be doing? Video
from Minute 17:40.
should abide by its own principles," CPJ's Maloney said, praising the press
releases and expressions of concern issued by UN affiliate UNESCO. Inner City
Press pointed out that, for example, UNESCO might criticize Uzbekistan for
blocking access to news sites, but the UN Development Program is working with
that country's Karimov government on an "open source software" program that does
not address -- and, some surmise, allow for -- the censorship.
Mahoney did not directly answer this question. Rather he pointed out that he had
met on Friday with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who "expressed support for the
work we do and solidarity with journalists in conflict zones." Mr. Mahoney
advised Inner City Press to "ask his spokesperson's department." Perhaps on
Thursday, which is World Press Freedom Day and on which a rally will be held
across from UN Headquarters for the BBC's Alan Johnston, kidnapped since March
12, some new press release is slated for issuance. Mr. Ban is in Sharm
El-Sheikh in Egypt, a country which has recently for the first time imprisoned a
blogger, according to Joel Campagna, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa
openly nationalistic UN press corps, Mr. Campagna was called on to justify the
inclusion in the list of Morocco in CPJ's
list of press freedom backsliders.
from minute 27:08. Mr. Campagna rattled off the names of three imprisoned
Moroccan journalists. The Moroccan correspondent challenged him, "Only three?"
year at the UN: plus ca change
Mahoney emphasized that the list excludes the war zones of Iraq and Somalia, and
is based on seven categories: "government censorship, judicial harassment,
criminal libel prosecutions, journalist deaths, physical attacks on the press,
journalist imprisonments, and threats against the press." This gave rise to
questions about the more subtle repression "in the West," with reference to
media conglomerates firing outspoken commentators. Mr. Mahoney noted that CPJ
closely followed the case in San Francisco of the video blog imprisoned for
months for refusing to give the police the footage he shot of a protest march.
worth noting that the UN has engagements with three of the
worst press freedom backsliders, according to CJP: The Gambia (where
UNDP acceded to the throwing out of its
representative by President Jammeh,
for questioning his
dubious AIDS cure,
and sent a more compliant officer in charge),
invasion of Somalia the UN has supported) and the DR Congo, the site of the UN's
biggest investment in its history. Mr. Mahoney on Wednesday acknowledged that in
compiling its report, CPJ did not visit the DRC, much less talk to the UN
mission's head, the American William Lacy Swing. Despite CPJ's seemingly
limited focus on the UN, as a venue from which to garner a press release of
support from the Secretary General, it seems fair to ask if the UN is doing
enough for press freedom. This would include ensuring that employees of the UN
and its funds and program are not
told not to speak
to the press.
events at UN Headquarters reflect a less than cutting edge approach by the UN
bureaucracy to online media. Here's hoping, among other things, that CPJ's
presentation and the ongoing work of UNESCO and others help bring UN
Headquarters into the ballpark on press freedom, and into the 21st century.
Refugee Czar Guterres Praises Sudan and Mozambique, Questions U.S.-Australia
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, May 1
-- The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, on Tuesday praised
the policies of Sudan and Mozambique, while expressing reservations about the
plan to swap asylum-seekers between Australia and the United States. That
plan would only pass legal muster if the people switched from central Australia
-- or Nauru -- to Guantanamo Bay wanted to make that move. "It depends on the
will of the people," Mr. Guterres told Inner City Press in the hallway of the
questions from reporter, Mr. Guterres described his recent visit to Eastern
Sudan, where over 100,000 Eritrean refugees live in "arid and difficult
conditions." Inner City Press asked about
reports that several thousand have not be
accorded refugee status. Mr.
Guterres indicated that Sudan has been generous, and that even those whose
claims are rejected receive assistance from the Sudanese government. This is not
a message heard in many other places.
hospital for refugees in east Sudan, per UNHCR
Guterres seemed to go out of his way to praise member states. Asked about
reports that Mozambique refuses to afford
refugee status to those fleeing Zimbabwe,
Guterres responded that legal status may not matter, as long as people are not
sent back. At the same time, he spoke of the difficulties for those who have
fled Iraq, only to find that the type of passport they have had is no longer
valid. So legal status does matter.
City Press asked about North Korean refugees, both those recently
hunger-striking in Thailand,
and those who arrive in China. Mr. Guterres said that the hunger strike has been
and the "flow" to South Korea restored. Regarding China, Guterres went out of
his way to say that he agrees that many who leave North Korea do so "because
they are hungry," and for "economic reasons." Nevertheless, he acknowledged,
once they leave, they would be persecuted if returned.
Under North Korea law, it is a crime to leave or attempt to leave the country
without permission. Therefore, Mr. Guterres said, the moment China moves to
return them to North Korea, they become refugees. It was an interesting
answer, but pointedly did not criticize China for its actual policy of
refoulement -- sending asylum seekers back to face torture. Mr. Gutteres
said, he was a politician for 30 years, but now that he's at UNHCR, he won't
answer political questions about who's to blame for the displacement. But what
about when it is the UN itself that is supporting the displacer? We'll have more
Holmes "Condemns" Reported Somali TFG Statements, While Withholding Documents
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN
UNITED NATIONS, April
24 -- The Somali Transitional Federal Government, which relies for its
legitimacy on the UN, yesterday told the UN that aid workers will have
"unimpeded access" to serve those people fleeing the TFG's shelling of
York, Inner City Press asked UN humanitarian chief John Holmes what the UN's
response has been to two sample statements, by TFG president Yusuf that civilian
neighborhoods can be shelled, and by TFG defense official Salad Ali Jeele, that
certain clans and sub-clans in Mogadishu need to be exterminated (click
Holmes responded that "the statements you've quoted, I would condemn them
from minute 35:13.
City Press asked about the
which it obtained and
reported on April 20
in which TFG Minister for Interior Mohamed Mohamoud
Guled wrote to the UN World Food Program that
decision that there will be no food distribution can take place anywhere in
Somalia without being inspected and approved by the government. Hence UN
agencies and any other organization that is planning to bring any relief to
Somalia should submit the documents for the goods before shipment for checkup."
letter from the Transitional Federal Government to the WFP was cc-ed to the
Somali National Refugee Commission, through which Inner City Press is told the
TFG had been saying all aid must flow. Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr. Holmes
said, "I have no information on that particular organization." That might be a
Ban and Mr. Yusuf
Mr. Holmes' briefing, WFP told Inner City Press the following:
From: [WFP Spokesperson]
To: Matthew Russell Lee
Sent: Mon, 23 Apr 2007 6:09 PM
Hi Matthew, there were talks between the
UN and TFG today. Here's a short update, from Peter Goossens, WFP Country
"The talk between the UN and a TFG
commission led by the Heath Minister were positive. The TFG will issue a
statement on the outcome. We hope that we will from now on be allowed to use any
airstrip in Somalia to bring in humanitarian assistance. We also need to see on
the ground that we are now allowed to bring that assistance urgently to those
most in need, particularly those displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu."
Mr. Holmes said essentially the same thing. However, when asked if any documents
could be provided -- the letter from UN Humanitarian Coordinator Eric Laroche,
or the above-referenced TFG statement -- Mr. Holmes said only that "I'll look
into that, if we can provide you chapter and verse." Ten hours later, no
documents had been provided. It's not "chapter and verse" -- it's basic
documents about what Mr. Holmes is calling the world's most dangerous for aid
workers. Silence doesn't help; silence is consent. Developing...
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