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For Pope's Visit, UN-Friendly CBS & FP Given Insiders' Spots, UNexplained

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 25 -- With the Pope scheduled to be in the UN for a few hours on September 25, workers in the UN Cafeteria right next to where he will speak were told they cannot as before eat in the regular cafeteria but must go to a side room.

 “It's discrimination,” an outraged food worker exclusively told Inner City Press. But it is the type of hypocrisy for which today's UN increasingly known, from equating peacekeepers' rapes with “R&R” to irregularities and a lack of transparency in who is let into his the Pope's first event in the UN.

  At the UN, transparency and access are in decline, due to collusion. Despite talk of the upcoming Papal visit and UN General Assembly week having Facebook and Instagram, virtual reality (photo here) and even Ban Ki-moon on Snapchat, things threaten to get worse. Inner City Press asked the UN who picked the scribes allowed into the Pope's meeting with UN staff without being in the lottery, including the UN-friendly CBS and FP, and the UN Spokesman said he doesn't know. The immaculate selection?

  Neither saw fit to explain how they wrangled their insider's spot, and so we are compelled to report: the CBS correspondent, when she asks questions at the UN, says things like “What are we” - conflating herself WITH the UN -- about such and such a problem.

  FP is less blatant, but became the UN's go-to guy to present its defense of the indefensible, for example after the UN covered up the killing, by Afghan forces, of UN security officer Louis Maxwell. Neither has ever reported, for example, on UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, no only when he openly refused to answer Press questions, but more recently when he linked UN rapes to “R&R.” Is THIS why they got the insiders' spots? We waited to hear, we asked and there was no answer. We'll have more on this.

Video here.

   For the Pope's visit to the UN on September 25, as everywhere else, there is more demand than there is space, so the UN purported to hold a lottery for journalists. The Free UN Coalition for Access went to observe the lottery, and was appreciative for that -- but found that the old UN Correspondents Association had already grabbed six spots.  Then it grabbed more.

  With no transparency, UNCA (now the UN's Censorship Alliance) president Giampaolo Pioli of Quotidiano Nazionale informed only those who pay UNCA money that six places at the Pope's first meeting in the UN, with UN staff, would be doled out to, among others, his predecessor from CBS, and the ex-Washington Post, now Foreign Policy correspondent. Who decided this?  On what authority? Perhaps these individuals, with their long pedigrees, will explain publicly, as they should.

 Then during the (faux) lottery, which Inner City Press for FUNCA on less than an hour's notice was invited to observe, Pioli's colleague Valeria Robecco, formerly of Quotidiano Nazionale and now ANSA, first said Inner City Press, when its name was drawn, was not really a photographer. Inner City Press said, take a vote. But it was called a decision that needed consensus, and Robecco broke it.

  But when minutes later there was no winner for the final staff meeting slot, it was proposed that Robecco be given it. Inner City Press walked out - volare - so clearly there was no consensus. But hours later, hers was the first name announced by the UN as attending the Pope's meeting with staff. The UN's announcements never named CBS or Foreign Policy, much less the correspondents' names: a total lack of transparency, a faux lottery, a fix.

 And so on September 24 Inner City Press from FUNCA asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric how picked these people, and how. Video here. He said he has no idea. UNtransparent: the immaculate selection?  Or not so immaculate: one of them is already bragging online that they'll be there. But how? Though what process?

 There was another UNCA board member with more than one entry, but they still "won" a spot. Meanwhile others not liked or known by the two UNCA observers were bounced on various pretexts. FUNCA stood up for one less than tech-savvy applicant.

 UNCA Executive Committee member Robecco told multi-media Inner City Press, You are not a photographer and said it shouldn't get a spot to cover the Pope's meeting with UN staff - then took a spot for herself.

   This bogus UN Censorship Alliance being allowed to opine who is a photographer or journalist is laughable, given for example that it past and current president rented out one of his apartments to a UN official turned diplomat, mentioned in the UN's own Sri Lanka war crimes report. He then tried to order coverage of this removed from the Internet: it's the UN's Censorship Alliance. 

  This is today's UN - but Inner City Press will nevertheless have Papal coverage on September 25, no thanks to UNCA. Maybe even, like Ban Ki-moon, on Snapchat (InnerCityPress), certainly Periscope.

   Later on September 22, there was an again-appreciated media walk-through (Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access Periscoped some of it, for wider benefit, while trying to not portray either the speaker or listeners, never easy). Among the upshots is that the General Assembly UNTV stakeout is being set up in a location of the third floor that few speakers would or even could find and go to. Media access, FUNCA says, is in decline: due to collusion. We'll have more on this.

Up to September 11, 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 favored media, apparently conditioned on positive or at least not negative coverage. Ban's UN partners with the old UN Correspondents Association, UNCA, whose leadership is focused on getting privileged access for itself, and effectively censoring others.

  On September 11, Inner City Press for the new Free UN Coalition for Access -- yes, FUNCA -- challenged the UN's attempt to Ban smartphone broadcasting in the upcoming UN General Assembly, and sought confirmation that no country to expel journalists it doesn't like from the UN Press Briefing Room, as France did last year.

  UNCA's past and current head then asked, if country do so, could the (closed) briefing be broadcast out? Of course, one couldn't then ask questions. But this UNCA leadership is not about the right to ask questions - if did nothing, for example, when UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous began picking which media he would respond answers, saying "I don't respond to you Mister," and the UN Spokesperson's Office colluded in this.

 The main point of UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance, was for it to be able to send a pooler / scribe to photo-ops. FUNCA said it has no objection, as long as the supposed "pool" is shared with all journalists, not just those who pay UNCA money and prop up censorship. Let the UN / MALU run it. We'll see.

  Prospectively, FUNCA asked the UN to set up a web page to upload answers about access, where people can go, so it can be shown to Security in real time, on phones.

 For the upcoming UNGA Week, the Free UN Coalition for Access to be pushing the envelope, seeing more information, more access, more accountability. Watch this site.

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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