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With No Fire Zone Online for Sri Lanka, At UN, Still "Lies Agreed To"

By Matthew Russell Lee, part of a series

UNITED NATIONS, March 10 -- A film exposing crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka, "No Fire Zone," and the Rajapaksa government's video response denying war crimes, "Lies Agreed To," were both covered on BBC today. No Fire Zone, Sinhala version, has gone online. But what is the status of Lies Agreed To?

  Inside the UN, which has a questionable record of non-response, cover-up and even participation in the Sri Lanka war crimes in 2009, and a more recent six month delay in releasing the promised inquiry report, "Lies Agreed To" -- but NOT "No Fire Zone" -- was screened, in September 2011.

  When Inner City Press reported on the screening, then on the background fact that the person who agreed to the screening, Giampaolo Pioli, had previously been the landlord of Palitha Kohona, who as Sri Lanka's Ambassador requested the screen in the UN hosted by the United Nations Correspondents Association, then and now headed by Pioli, demands for censorship and expulsion began.

 Unhappy with Inner City Press reporting, Pioli demanded that the story come down.

  When Inner City Press instead of censorship offered amplifications and to publish a letter to the editor of any length, Pioli rejected it and pushed to get Inner City Press thrown out. After some of this was reported in the media in Sri Lanka, and Inner City Press informed Pioli of this and of death threats it had received, Pioli refused to suspend his campaign, instead trying to use the threats as leverage to get Inner City Press to publish a "box," that he would dictate, on the front of its website.

  In this audio clip, after Inner City Press informed Pioli and other UNCA Executive Committee members that their kangaroo court proceeding had given rise to death threats, Pioli demands a "box of apology... as long as it is Inner City Press."

  (The voice heard cutting in in support of Pioli is from Agence France Presse, which intervened in defense of Herve Ladsous, after-arising Vine here. On March 10 on BBC, before No Fire Zone direct Callum Macrae, an AFP reporter from Colombo said "No Fire Zone" may be too divisive. Macrae replies that truth serves everyone but the guilty - and we note that Gotabaya Rajapaksa now appears to be under a travel ban, here.)

  When Inner City Press pointed out that it would have to explain why Pioli's rental of apartment to Kohona was reported, Pioli said "we don't need your justification," only that you "admit your mistake" for the last six months.

  This is what UNCA became, the UN's Censorship Alliance, and what it is, and functions as. Inner City Press when its elected term on the UNCA Executive Committee ended quit the group and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access, now defending the rights of journalists from Somaliland to Bangladesh and beyond. We will have more on this.

 In this audio clip, Pioli admits that "I asked you to take down the reference" to him having rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona, whose request for an UNCA screening of a Sri Lankan government war crimes denial film Pioli would later unilaterally grant. "Taking down" is a censorship - in this case, of a fact, having been Kohona's landlord, which Pioli doesn't deny.

  Pioli said that rental arrangement was not only OK, but also couldn't be reported on, because he said he used a broker. One, that is dubious; two, as Inner City Press  showed in July 2012, Pioli didn't use any broker to rent out a Hamptons property to anyone who could pay. Pioli's ad, on the Internet, offered

"ultra luxurious home was totally renovated in 2010 using the finest Italian materials and Italian artisans. Equally at home on the Amalfi Coast, you'll think you're in Italy, but you'll be on prestigious Red Creek Road in the heart of the Hamptons" with a rental price of "$80,000 - $90,000/month."

This was public, and can be questioned, and reported on. This is journalism.

  Pioli on the day in question was angry that Inner City Press asked at the day's UN noon briefing about the propriety of landlord relations by correspondents ostensibly covering the UN. But the question is entirely within the bound of investigative journalism - and to try to get a reporter thrown out for asking such a question is censorship.

 Now, despite the lack of any competition, Pioli has reappeared in the UN after a long hiatus to try to turn out the vote. But he has said, a person cannot be a member of UNCA and the Free UN Coalition for Access at the same time. Since this absurd rule is nowhere in UNCA's "Constitution," it seems Pioli has moved from attacking freedom of the press to attacking freedom of belief and association.  Who supports this?

  Pioli's attempts to censor are public. In a previous audio clip, here, Pioli as UN Correspondents Association president said it was fine that he withheld a copy of a complaint filed to the UN (in this case, by Reuters, copy went to Pioli as then-head of UNCA) -- that is, no due process for journalists. What kind of organization is UNCA? Under Pioli?

  Inner City Press quit UNCA, and co-founded the Free UN Coalition for Access with another Executive Committee member who quit UNCA in disgust. Now Pioli says no one could be a member of both. What kind of UN/CA is this?

 Note: later Reuters tried to get a leaked copy of its complaint banned from Google's Search, claiming it was private and copyrighted, here. What kind of organization is this?

 In a previous audio clip, two days before formally beginning a process to try to get Inner City Press thrown out, Giampaolo Pioli as President of the United Nations Correspondents Association complains about Inner City Press reporting that he rented out of his Manhattan apartments to "Palitha" [Kohona, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN] in the context of Pioli unilaterally using UNCA to screen a Sri Lanka government war crimes denial movie inside the UN.

 Two days later, Pioli would convene a UN Correspondents Association Excutive Committee meeting to "examine" Inner City Press and try to throw it out - first of UNCA, then of the UN at a whole. This is the Pioli slated to return, with no competition at all, to head what he made the UN's Censorship Alliance.

 In a previous audio clip, Pioli tried to dictate to Inner City Press how it should have covered Sri Lanka, suggesting it should simply transcribe what "Palitha" (Kohona) and Shavendra Silva said and not report that he, Pioli, had rented out of his Manhattan apartments to Kohona before agreeing to use UNCA to screen the Sri Lankan government's war crimes denial film inside the UN.

  "Why did you have to" report that? Pioli demanded, claiming the rental arrangement was significantly further in the past than it was.

  When Inner City Press refused to remove the article from the Internet, and Pioli refused the offer to publish a letter to the editor, Pioli made good on his threat to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Complaints were filed by Pioli's first vice president from Reuters, who also used the Reuters servers for the campaign.

  Now Pioli has reappeared, slated to re-take over the helm of UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance. Who will serve him last his past first vice president, a position current held by a representative of Turkish media? As to how correspondent Pioli owns so much real estate, there is a Turkish connection on which we will have more. The UN cannot be allow to further decay on press freedom and access. Watch this site.


Pioli toasts, Sri Lanka censorship demands not shown, UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

  In the last audio clip, Pioli as President of the UN Correspondents Association said of this Press story about him, "take it out" -- that is, remove the entire story from the Internet -- because it is false or, he then says, "basically false."

  But Pioli first complained that he still found online (audio) facts of which he admitted "nothing is false" -- that before unilaterally deciding to screen a Sri Lankan government film denying war crimes he had rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN.

  What was reported wasn't false, but Pioli ordered "take it out" and off the Internet. That is censorship. One question is, why is Pioli now seeking to return as head of UNCA, which he turned into the UN Censorship Alliance?

  The same clip has Pioli's then Vice President, himself a censor, here, deriding Inner City Press as a blogger someone "using" UNCA. In fact, after seeing how it could be used for censorship, Inner City Press quit UNCA and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access.

   On September 6, 2011 without consulting with other UNCA board members Pioli used the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium and UNCA's now-debased logo to host a war crimes denial film by Sri Lanka's government. Inner City Press reported on the event, here.

  Numerous "emergency" UNCA meetings followed, including about Inner City Press' coverage of Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to head UN Peacekeeping despite his role during the Rwanda genocide of 1994; there was an amateurish statement drafted by Pioli about ethics.

  Then Pioli, supported by Agence France Presse, said that no dissent, no matter how short, could to appended to the statement. Audio clip here. AFP even said, send it out yourself - seemingly an invitation to write about the issue, which happened and led to threats to oust Inner City Press from the UN, which Voice of America requested saying it had the support of AFP and Reuters, which then tried a cover-up, here.

(There was was an even more free press unfriendly "apology" drafted by Pioli, as well as his UNCA stirring up death threats which have been ongoing -- but that's another story.)

   The day of Pioli's UNCA screening -- without UNCA board approval or even notice -- of Sri Lanka's war crimes denial, attempts at outright censorship began.

  Pioli had a financial relationship with Sri Lanka's ambassador Palitha Kohona, renting Kohona one of Pioli's Manhattan apartments. Inner City Press was told if it persisted in reporting this, Pioli would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Inner City Press offered to run a response by Pioli, of any length, but the demand was that the article be removed from the Internet in its entirety: pure censorship. This is UNCA's past and seemingly future; watch for the next installment in this series.


Pioli & Ban Ki-moon, Sri Lanka war crimes denial not shown. UN Photo/Mark Garten

  Here is an audio clip in which Pioli while he was president of UNCA told Inner City Press that it should not report what a UN Assistant Secretary General said in a public place. Audio here.

  Pioli would go on to order that an article about his own conflict of interest regarding Sri Lanka be taken down from the Internet or he would get the Press thrown out of the UN.

   So Pioli wants to ride again. After seeking the ouster of the investigative Press from the UN -- promising to bring it about, and demanding the removal of articles from the Internet -- he seeks to re-assume UNCA's presidency, endorsed by his two-year figurehead fill-in, Pamela Falk.  He is endorsing a slate of media that supported the ouster of the investigative Press, one of which then sought to censor even that, click here.

  To show how far the UN has fallen, consider that Pioli in September 2011 wrote and proposed this statement for UNCA's Executive Committee to issue:

"GiamPioli [at] aol.com; dear Colleagues, I propose to consider for a vote this statement  but I am more than happy to discuss  again
 
<IN RESPONSE TO CONCERNS WE WOULD LIKE TO REMIND UNCA MEMBERS THAT EVERYONE BELONGHING TO OUR ORGANIZATION IS EXPECTED TO MANTAIN PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS WHILE WORKING AT THE UN. THIS INCLUDE COMMON COURTESIES SUCH AS NOT USING PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS AMONG MEMBERS ON THE UN PRESS CORPS AS THE BASIS OF, OR CONFIRMING SORCES FOR, NEWS REPOERTS>   UNCA EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE"

  That is Giampaoli Pioli, the once and future president of the UN's Censorship Alliance. The above draft, by Pioli, was at the request of Agence France Presse, after an inquiry by the French mission to the UN. AFP's reporter wrote: "I am writing to you to request some kind of action by UNCA over a story published by Inner City Press on Friday which has caused serious damage to AFP. Inner City Press published a story about the new head of UN peacekeeping" -- that would be, Herve Ladsous. We will have more on this.

  Neither in 2011 and 2012 nor since has Pioli asked any critical questions at the UN, or pushed for greater access for journalists - quite the opposite. He rented one of his apartments to the ambassador of a country he later let screen a war crimes denial film in the UN under the sponsorship of UNCA, without even checking with other Executive Committee members much less recusing himself.

  After Inner City Press reported on this, as later revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request to US state media Voice of America, "the lawyer's at our UNCA president's newspaper are preparing their libel lawsuit" against Inner City Press, click here for that. No lawsuit was ever filed, and how could it be? Pioli DID rent one of his apartment to the ambassador whose war crimes denial film he later screened. It was simply pressure to censor the coverage. Later it showed up in Italian, here.

  Pioli hosts UN officials and those whose votes he wants at a Long Island mansion he rents out, for tens of thousands of dollars a month, during the summer. He makes campaign contributions to politicians he is supposed to be covering. Small but telling, in the UN Press Briefing Room he gave a gift to the UN Deputy Spokesperson. This is the past and future UNCA.

  And how would this further decayed UNCA advocate even to maintain media access at the UN?

  In September 2014 during the General Assembly debate week, Ban's chief of peacekeeping blocked a Press camera (Vine here), and the French mission ordered all non-French journalists to leave a briefing by President Francois Hollande in the UN Press Briefing Room.

   The new Free UN Coalition for Access actively opposed both of these, as well as restrictions on getting to the General Assembly stakeout and on taking photographs from the General Assembly photographers booth. After making the latter complaint to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on October 17, Dujarric's office two hours later promoted a meeting ostensibly to discuss "access problems," by UNCA a/k/a UN's Censorship Alliance.

  Now the UNCA "minutes" and partial list of grievances have been provided to FUNCA. They are laughable. The ejection of non-French journalists from the UN Briefing Room is not mentioned, nor the physical blocking of filming.

  Instead, UNCA under figurehead Pamela Falk and sidekick 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."

   The current and seemingly future vice president of UNCA came to the UN Security Council stakeout to inform FUNCA, apparently officially, that the recent for less news is only from one Board member, naming her. But the minutes are the minutes, and the UN Censorship Alliance's function is what it is: anathema to press freedom.

  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. And now it seems it may get even worse.

  On October 16, media photographing the UN General Assembly vote for new Security Council members were ordered NOT to photograph the tables of the voters. Inner City Press for FUNCA resisted, and discussed this issue along with the elections (and Cambodia) on Huffington Post Live's "World Brief" on October 17, here.

On September 27 while Inner City Press filmed from within the GA stakeout area, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous came over and blocked -- or Banned -- the filming, demanding to know what it was for. Vine here. Then Ladsous canceled the scheduled public Q&A stakeout on Mali.

  While the new Free UN Coalition for Access challenged this censorship, on September 27 at the stakeout and following up the next week, the old UNCA has done nothing about it. In fact, UNCA big wigs have been happy to take private briefings from Ladsous and others, as access at the UN for less "insider" correspondents has continued to decline.

  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.)

   Now, in a typical UN charade, the very UNCA which oversaw this decrease in access belatedly says it is concerned and conducts UN-promoted meetings that are akin to faux, scripted wrestling matches with fake punches. This is the UNCA that played softball soccer with Ban, promoting and allowing him a photo op.

  Many of these promotions are signed by UNCA figurehead Pamela Falk of CBS, nowhere seen during noon briefing fights about media access. Meanwhile the UN Spokesperson's office is promoting a for-pay event for UNCA, by taping a flier for it on its counter. This is the UN's Censorship Alliance.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told the UN, again on October 16, that it must address and reverse its blocking of press access, and that if it needs input it must hold a meeting open to all journalists who cover the UN, not just its chosen UNCA -- the UN's Censorship Alliance -- which has become akin to a company-created and supported union.

   Ban's spokesperson's office declined to criticize the September 27 censorship, nor Ladsous' spokesman subsequently asking another media to confirm that it would not air an on the record interview with Ladsous' deputy Edmond Mulet about the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. Video here.

  In fact Ban's Spokesman played a part in, at least defending, a French-only briefing in the UN Press Briefing Room.

On September 23, the entourage of French President Francois Hollande repeatedly but unsuccessfully ordered the UN accredited Press to leave the UN's Press Briefing RoomVideo here.

  On September 25 when the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who peaked out from the VIP / Green Room behind the Press Briefing Room, about the incident, he said sometimes countries try to reserve the Room.

   Asked if other countries had done so during this General Assembly, Dujarric said yes.

   Inner City Press then asked Dujarric which other countries, beyond his native France:

based on your answer at today's noon briefing, please state which countries during this UNGA have used the UN Press Briefing Room for briefing not open to all UN correspondents, other than France at 11 am on September 23. Also, what was your role on September 23 around 11 am in the room behind the Press Briefing Room podium?

 This has been Dujarric's response:

Subject: please state which countries..
From: Stephane Dujarric [at] un.org
Date: Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 1:06 PM
To: Inner City Press
Cc: funca <funca [at] funca.info>

I don't have the information on the first point for you. On the second, I'm not sure that I understand it except that I was just looking into the room. I tend to be a curious person.

Stephane Dujarric (Mr.)
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters

   FUNCA is left wondering: ARE there any other countries? The question has been asked again by FUNCA, elsewhere. And it has been on HuffPost Live, here. Watch this site.

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.  Sri Lanka remains a test case. Watch this site.


 

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