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Voice of America Complaint to Get ICP Out of UN Violates 1st Amendment

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 21, updated -- After five Big Media members of the UN Correspondents Association on May 25 started a "Board of Examination" to investigate Inner City Press with an eye toward expelling it from UNCA, they claimed there was no intention to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN itself.

  But on June 20, the executive editor of Voice of America, one of the Big Five along with Reuters, Bloomberg News, Al-Arabiya and Agence France Presse, wrote to the UN's Stephane Dujarric, supervisor of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, asking him to "review Mr. Lee's status as an accredited U.N. correspondent."

  It is now apparent that the UNCA "Board of Examination" process has been a set-up.

  Inner City Press' participation in the meetings they summoned it to, its e-mail responses to questions they sent, its urging Voice of America to comply with the First Amendment to the US Constitution, are all now being used against it, to ask the UN to review its accreditation.

In the letter, editor Steve Redisch claims VOA correspondent Margaret Besheer was harassed by e-mail. But Inner City Press never sent a single email to Margaret Besheer was wasn't part of the UNCA Executive Committee list, on which members as in a witch hunt were demanding answers from Inner City Press.

Redisch, who has never once spoken to Inner City Press, purports to complain on behalf not only of VOA's Besheer but "others" -- with whom he presumably HAS spoken. It may be that he conferred the UN's Dujarric before filing this complaint.

The "unprofessional and borderline harassing email correspondence" to Redisch "and to other senior VOA management" were, in fact, requests that VOA as a government funded media comply with the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Beyond freedom of speech and of the press, the First Amendment protects the right to petition the government -- including this state media Voice of America -- for redress of grievances.

Already in this time of fiscal austerity, there have been calls to defund and eliminated Voice of America. As simply one example, VOA at the UN has hardly broken any news.

Inner City Press, by contrast has broken stories about Syria, Libya, the selection of US official Jeffrey Feltman to head the UN Department of Political Affairs, 14 kilos of cocaine in the UN mail room in January 2012 (a scoop taken without credit by the Big Five and others), the fight in September 2011 between the guards of Turkish president Erdogan and UN Security, and UN corruption generally.

Particularly in these times of fiscal austerity, does it make sense -- and is it legal -- to spend US taxpayers' dollars on a campaign to oust from the UN an investigative journalist who exposes waste, fraud and abuse?

Update of 12:27 pm -- At the June 21 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press after asking questions on Sudan, Syria and the UN's plans to use drones, asked about the Voice of America complaint, citing UNCA.

In the briefing room and asking a noon briefing question, which is rare, was UNCA President Giampaolo Pioli and compatriots. Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky, as prepared (video here, from Minute 16:53)

I've asked whether journalists here at the UN have a right to know when complaints are filed against them, especially by competitors. Your Office has not answered; nor has the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit nor Stephane Dujarric.

Now I've learned that Voice of America has asked Dujarric to review my accreditation at the UN, essentially for things I have written. What are my rights in this regard? What weight does the UN give to such a complaint, with no specifics, filed by a big media -- actually, at least five of them -- against a small investigative web site? What does Ban Ki-moon think of all this?

And Nesirky replied, "I don't have anything to say on this at all" and "I have nothing to say on the matter."  Video here, from Minute 17:57.

Here is the text of the complaint:

Subject: Matthew Lee
From Steve Redisch [at]
To: Stephane Dujarric [at]
Cc: Kataryna Lyson, Michael Lawrence
Date: June 20, 2012

Mr. Stephane Dujarric
Head of News &. Media Division
United Nations
300 East 42nd Street, Room 518
NY, NY, 10017

Dear Mr. Dujarric:

I am writing because it has come to my attention that a United Nations accredited journalist, Matthew Lee of the Inner City Press, has exhibited disruptive and unprofessional conduct towards Voice of America (VOA) U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer. Over the last several weeks, Mr. Lee has also sent frequent, unprofessional and borderline harassing email correspondence to Ms. Besheer, to me and to other senior VOA management regarding the United Nations Correspondents Association's internal business matters.

Although Mr. Lee has not physically threatened Ms. Besheer, I understand she and other reporters are, to be kind, uncomfortable with his behavior and feel that he lacks proper judgment and exhibits unprofessional conduct while at the U.N.

As an experienced journalist and leader of an organization dedicated to freedom of the press, it is difficult for me to make this request of you. But I would urge you to review Mr. Lee's status as an accredited U.N. correspondent. I believe his behavior is impeding the freedom VOA's correspondent and others need in order to report what they see and know from the United Nations.

I am copying VOA/BBG's Assistant General Counsel Kataryna Lyson and Director of Security Michael Lawrence so they are aware of the situation and its serious nature. Please don't hesitate to call or email to discuss further.

Best regards,

Steve Redisch
VOA Executive Editor
sredjsch [at]

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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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

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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