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After Eviction, UN Tells Press What It Can Film and Say, Not Yemen or Burundi, UN Corruption

By Matthew Russell Lee, Series, Video I, II

UNITED NATIONS, February 27 – I was standing again at the UN Security Council stakeout, when a UN guard came to start locking the glass door. No way, I told him. The meeting's still going on. I got my camera to take a picture. You better stop taking pictures, the guard said.

  I've been told to document exclusion, I told him. One of the other correspondents, whom I'd avoided for more than two years, was Giampaolo Pioli, the head of the United Nations Correspondents Association who'd ordered me to take a story off-line, about him allowing a Sri Lankan ambassador who'd been his tenant to screen a war crimes denial film as a UN Correspondents Association event.

Yeah, yeah, Pioli said. You're really doing something. I ignored him again and went back to my laptop to Tweet out the photo of the guard locking the glass door. But Pioli came over next to me.

 “You're an asshole,” he said. “Why won't you tweet that? You're an asshole.” Audio here.

  I was surprised and probably should have just left it that. But I said, And you're corrupt. You rented your apartment to an Ambassador then screened his movie. Then you couldn't take it--

  Guys, guys, a guy cut in, a partner of Voice of America with the Arabic channel from the Broadcast Board of Governors called Al Hurra. I wish you would not do this at the stakeout.

  It wasn't me, I told him. I haven't spoke to him in two years. He came and called me an asshole. And you are, Pioli croaked. You're an asshole. And you're corrupt, I told him. Things had reached that point.

It seemed to me that UNCA's Pioli calling me an asshole, and me not swearing back, might help me. It wasn't the type of thing, just barely, that I raised at the noon briefing - although a previous Deputy Secretary General calling me not an asshole but a jerk had been raised, not by the New York Sun - but at the next Security Council stakeout I saw Cristina Gallach approaching. I still had hope, I gestured her over since I couldn't leave the area.

  As she approached I said into my phone, my Periscope, Here comes the UN official who ordered me evicted, she went to the South South - and suddenly the guard at the top of the ramp cut in.

  You know you can't do that, he said. Do what? I asked him. I'm at the stakeout. I can film. You can't talk like that, he said.

  You're telling me what to report? It's my stand up.  You KNOW, he repeated. By then Gallach was coming over; I held my phone to my side. Yes? she said.

I told her about being locked out of the stakeout, then what Pioli had said. Well, she replied, I've heard you photograph things that are not newsworthy.

 I thought about that. “I'm not sure that's for you to say,” I told her. “There's a corruption scandal going on. If I see someone I don't recognize, walking with the President of the General Assembly, I'm going to take a picture. Then I'll show it around, to find out who it is.”  I paused. “It's called journalism.” Gallach scowled. She had, after all, been Javier Solana's spokesperson. So what?

 In the briefing room things went no better. At the next noon briefing I noticed two guys in the interpreters booth and took a photo of them. When Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq came in, and after he'd read his canned statement and I'd asked the usual mix about Burundi and Yemen I asked him about the people who'd just left the booth. He admitted he didn't know who they were.

 But you didn't check, right? You didn't throw them out. So really,there is no rule.

 You're just trying to justify what you did, Haq said, again looking at the front row for support.

Yeah, I tried to cover corruption, I said. And I intend to continue.

This they cut out of the transcript, as they would start doing more and more. Was the fix in?


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