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In UN (Non) Walls Would Have Ears, Under Kane Whistleblowers Beware

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED 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 whistleblowers.

  At 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"?

   The 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.

   After Inner 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.

   But 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 $23,000 for offices with walls and doors, or to be moved into open air offices without doors or walls.

   After reporting 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 Union -- presented a detailed proposal with less then floor to ceiling walls.

    A 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 the end of the year.)

Inner 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 Times of London and Washington Post credited Inner City Press for the exclusive.)

   So who, then, is 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."

   In 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 Service 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.

   Notably, 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 beware.

Footnotes: 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.

  The "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."

   It's 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.

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At UN, Ban Bones Up on Safety and Swing Space, Sri Lanka Pushed into Past

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Muse

UNITED 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.

  Ban's 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 several media organizations including the Washington Post from the UN.

  Subsequently, 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 done.] The 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.

  More 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 monitoring compliance.

  But only this week, his Spokespeople have 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 the UN-funded internment camps have no protection from Sri Lanka's courts. That's a national issue, was the answer of Ban's spokespeople.

 What does Mr. Ban himself think? One hopes to get an answer.

  Back 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.

In 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.

  At 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. Ban's car.

  After 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."

  These 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 Anna Tibaijuka as head of the UN office in Nairobi by UNEP's Aichim Steiner.

  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 for that -- 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.

Update of 10:59 a.m. -- Ban's press conference, scheduled for 11 a.m., has 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 done.

  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.

Update 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 Office. 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.

Update 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.

Update 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.

  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.

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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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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