UN, Ban Bones Up on Safety and Swing Space, Sri Lanka Pushed
UN (Non) Walls Would Have Ears, Under Kane Whistleblowers Beware
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
NATIONS, June 13 -- As the UN gears up to empty its Headquarters and
knock down all the walls, a rift with the press corps has come into
public view. It has to do with walls, and impacts the ability to
report on and expose corruption and dysfunctions brought to light by
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's June 11 press
conference, Mr. Ban was
asked if he favors "current plans by UN management" to
"start charging journalists for working space" or "to
not provide proper office enclosure and security"?
issue first came to light last July
when a memo was leaked to Inner City
Press from within the Office of the Under Secretary General for
Management, Angela Kane, stating that Ms. Kane wanted a list of other
international or governmental organizations which, unlike UN
Headquarters for sixty years, charge the press for space.
City Press published
this memo, which a whistleblower had slipped
under the door of Inner City Press' office on the fourth floor of the
UN, the correspondents' association was given assurances by the
Department of Public Information that Ms. Kane's idea would not be
implemented, that it was in essence merely an intellectual exercise.
months later, following more leaks from within Ms. Kane's office
including about lack of
U.S. doctors' licenses by those prescribing narcotics
in the UN and most recently her memo to Ban
Ki-moon proposing, among
other things, to complain to Google News about Inner City Press, and
to hire outside counsel to send "cease and desist... letters
before action" to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Inner
City Press, the correspondents were told to either pay
offices with walls and doors, or to be moved into open air offices
without doors or walls.
that this would drive media out of the UN, the proposal was
modified to de-emphasize the demand for money, but to make mandatory
the loss of confidentiality. On the eve of Ban's press conference,
Ban's senior advisor Kim Won-soo and his spokesperson Michele Montas,
along with the head of the Capital Master Plan Michael Adlerstein --
whose boss Angela Kane was and is in Nairobi at a meeting between
Management and labor that does not include the UN's New York Staff
presented a detailed proposal with less then floor to ceiling walls.
counter proposal described to Inner City Press late on June 12 --
again in its fourth floor office with its closing door -- would give
doors and walls to wire services but not "print"
journalists, defined to include a range from Inner City Press to the
Washington Post. (The
Washington Post, as Inner City Press
exclusively reported, already plans to close its UN bureau before
end of the year.)
City Press told the lead negotiator that this report would be
published and asked him, what is the distinction between a wire
service and a journalistic entity which reports in whatever medium on
UN corruption, and needs to offer confidentiality to its sources?
UN's Mr. Ban and Ms. Kane in basement, many
things not shown
This need is not limited to UN corruption whistleblowers -- earlier
this month, when the draft
resolution for sanctions on North Korea
for its nuclear test was leaked, it was to this online publication
and not a TV station or a wire. (In fact, the
Associated Press along with Japanese wires, the
of London and Washington
credited Inner City
Press for the exclusive.)
So who, then,
behind the UN's push to either drive the press out by
charging thousands of dollars, or drive it out into the open where
whistleblowers cannot approach? Leaked documents point to Angela
Kane, who has previously told Inner City Press, in writing, that she
has no time to answer questions, that they should be "asked in
the noon briefing."
that briefing room last month, when asked by Inner
City Press about a range of
management issues from disparities in punishment in a UN pornography
ring complained off by whistleblower staff to the UN Medical
complaints, Ms. Kane said that if any part of a complainant's story
is not verified, he or she is not a whistleblower. This means that,
even on paper, no protection against retaliation would be offered.
the Capital Master Plan was modified to place Ms. Kane's office on
the third floor of what is now the library, directly above where the
Press will be. As modified, the Press will have neither walls nor
door. The message? Whistleblowers
the correspondents' association's June 12 meeting at which a
negotiating team was named and the "no walls for print media"
counterproposal was reportedly developed was, ironically, closed to
the Press and other rank and file members of the association. While
some summary was graciously provided afterwards, others say that with
workmen from the UN's contractor Skanska already finalizing layouts
in the so-called swing space, the battle is being lost.
"consultations" that Mr. Ban referred to in his scripted
press conference answer are being conducted by his deputy chief of
staff Kim Won-soo, who immediately after the press conference
approached the questioner to say, let us continue the dialogue, but
"you broken our agreement." This last presumably referred
to Kim's request that the issue not be publicly raised in the press
conference. While the lead negotiator, to whom Kim's accusation was
directed, tried to play it down, another active correspondent
replied, "We are not sorry, Mr. Kim."
said that Kim either does not understand or acknowledge reporters'
need for confidentiality or independence -- he once told Inner City
Press to "report nicely on Angela Kane" -- or resents that
the media which has come to New York from South Korea to cover Ban
Ki-moon do not yet have the closed offices of long-time UN
correspondents. That of course could be solved. To some it appears
only a pretext. Watch this site.
* * *
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Muse
NATIONS, June 11, updated --
In the lead up to today's Ban Ki-moon press
conference, Mr. Ban's staff prepared him on the non foreign policy
topics of the UN's Capital Master Plan, safety and the so-called
swing space which will be used for the four years Headquarters is
under repair. While many UN staff members are unhappy with where they
are being moved and what they'll come back to, if they come back, the
press corps has become increasingly vocal.
spokesperson Michele Montas was given advance notice that Ban will be
asked about the attempt by his officials, led by Under Secretary
General for Management Angela Kane and CMP chief Michael Adlerstein,
to charge media organizations $23,000 for office space similar to
that they now have for free. Inner City
Press reported exclusively on
these attempted charges, linking it with the exodus of
organizations including the Washington Post from the UN.
the money demand was dropped, and only "open office"
cubicles offered. [But see below - on
June 10, the UN renewed its proposal to charge the press money for
space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has
UN press corps remains strongly opposed and urges ratcheting things up,
as is done here.
The UN's rationale is that the UN is moving to a culture
of transparency. We've yet to see it. At a supposed Town Hall meeting
led by Angela Kane on June 5 about UN justice, security officers
checked all attendees' identification cards at the entrance doors.
Can't have any reporting on justice at the UN, apparently.
substantively, Ban or his Spokesperson's Office seem to have decided
to try to cut off questions about the year's bloodiest conflict, Sri
Lanka. On May 23, the UN's Ban Ki-moon signed a Joint Statement with
Sri Lanka's Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ban has since said that he is closely
But only this week, his Spokespeople
refused to comment on the deporting of Canadian MP Bob Rae, the
extension of state of emergency anti-terror laws, and the country's
outgoing chief justice's statement that those in
internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a
national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.
does Mr. Ban
himself think? One hopes to get an answer.
in Headquarters, an incoming USG who is seeking answers is Gregory
Starr, the replacement of David Veness. He is slated, sources say, to
meet later this week with DSG Asha Rose Migiro. The delayed Security
Risk Assessments are said to finally be completed, but their
recommendations are not known, particularly with regard to safeguards
needed at the Madison Avenue and 47th Street swing space.
the run up to his June 11 "monthly" press conference, Ban
was said to be angry at the mounting concerns about the safety of the
way the CMP is being implemented. Asbestos removal has been
performed, for example, right next to the UN library, still in use.
Adlerstein insists that the work is being done on weekends, by "men
in spacesuits... using negative pressure." But the Staff Union
has questioned the process, and has also now in writing, they say,
questioned what they call Angela Kane's grab of space on the library
building's third floor, causing a unit of the Department of Public
Information to move twice.
a recent meeting, Adlerstein insisted that such double moves are
common, and blamed Inner City Press making it an issue. If he only
knew -- the issue was raised first by the Staff Union. Inner City
Press spoke briefly with Adlerstein on June 10, asking the status of
the white PVC piping, otherwise illegal in New York, and the septic
tank installed in the third sub-basement next to the garage for Mr.
first declining to answer -- Adlerstein, as well as Ms. Montas, say
they are opposed to "getting quotes in the hallway," which
is routinely done by the UN press corps, particularly on the Security
Council beat -- Adlerstein said that the PVC is legal, and the septic
tanks will stay. Staff Union sources wonder if Ban has smelled his
car. "That's not a new car wax," one joked on Thursday
morning. He added that such close Press coverage of the UN is a
mark of respect, not disrespect, for "the Organization."
sources insist that the USG for Management post is "in play,"
as they put it. The initial impetus, they say, came from the United
States, but others have now joined in. Inner City Press asked, but
where does one shift a USG? The sources pointed to the lateral move
of Ms. Kane's predecessor Alicia Barcena to ECLAC in Santiago, and
joked that the UN now like "giving Germans high UN posts in
Africa," referring to Ban's (or Kane's) replacement of
Tibaijuka as head of the UN office in Nairobi by UNEP's Aichim
As we've noted before, most recently in connection with
what is described as Ms. Kane's
memo to Ban about a May 8 meeting
with other USGs about legal action against three media organizations,
one of which interviewed Ban on June 10, and proposal to
complain to Google News about Inner City Press, click here
-- we'd like to get direct responses on these issues from Ms. Angela
Kane, but she has indicated in writing and never changed a statement
that she has not time to answer questions, to just ask in the
briefing room. Watch this space.
of 10:59 a.m. -- Ban's press conference, scheduled for 11 a.m.,
been pushed back to 1 p.m.. It is the only thing on this public
schedule for the day (he flies to St. Louis later in the day).
Reportedly, the UN is again proposing to charge the press money for
space to report on the UN, which no previous Secretary General has
With Angela Kane not in the meetings -- reportedly out of town
-- Ban's deputy chief of staff has taken the lead. Some say his focus
is on newly arriving South Korean media, if they must work in the
non-enclosed bullpen, then everyone should. Ostensibly to allay
concerns about journalists' expensive equipment being stolen from
open office space, the UN has offered to install additional, multiple
angle security cameras. There's talk, satirical or absurd, about a
designated "UN Whistleblower Zone," perhaps like the
so-called "No Fire" Zone in Sri Lanka. To be continued.
of 12:56 p.m. -- the press corps is settling in for Ban's presser,
putting their names on the list maintained by his Spokesperson's
Inner City Press was here early, after the stakeout of top humanitarian
John Holmes, immediately entered into the list and took a spot in the
front row, so we'll see.
of 1:01 p.m. -- Ban has begun, stating that he waited until 1 p.m. in
light of WHO raising its Swine Flu / H1N1 level to six. There is
whispering about how or even if the swing space issue will be raised.
of 2:12 p.m. -- while Ban's Spokesperson did not call on Inner City
Press, despite the right to ask follow ups to a question if Ban thinks
he will be a two term Secretary General, when she called on CNN, their
long time correspondent with characteristic class said he would give
the question right to Inner City Press. It was the last question of the
press conference; Inner City Press asked for Ban's response to the
Economist rating him 3 / 10 on Speaking Truth to Power, and even lower,
2 / 10, on Management Skills.
Ban gave a long and unscripted answer, which we will
analyze and report on later today. [Click here.]
For now, various observers called it
his only passionate answer, or to be more charitable as he requested,
the most passionate of his answers.
As Ban left for St. Louis, his deputy chief of staff approached the
first questioner, about the swing space, and audibly said, let's
continue the dialogue, but you broke our agreement. Another journalist
replied, We are not sorry, Mr. Kim. It all took place in the briefing
room, with recorders running. Only at the UN... Watch this site.