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At the UN, News Blackout in Tbilisi, Assessing New Media in Madrid "Internal Meeting"

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 2 -- When Ban Ki-moon visited Tblisi, Georgia on June 29, he reportedly insisted that the media not film his meeting with president Mikheil Saakashvili, which was held in the Kopala restaurant.

   Monday at UN Headquarters in New York, Inner City Press asked:

Two questions.  One is about another Ban Ki-moon visit. I think after Afghanistan, he went to Georgia?  And there is a report from Georgia saying that he dined with the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, and was only filmed by the Protocol Service because, quote: 'Ban Ki-moon himself was said to have demanded that the media not be allowed to film his visit.'  Is that the case? And why was nothing said about his visit to Georgia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was, as you know, the visit to Afghanistan was a surprise visit.  His next official stop was Geneva, and the stop in Georgia was a technical stop-over stop.  And that was due to regulations of the flight crew, etcetera.  It was designated as a technical stop-over.  There was no meeting that had been previously scheduled with the President.  It was only upon arrival that a dinner was spontaneously set up, so to speak.

Question:  But is this report correct, that Ban Ki-moon or his staff said that the Georgian media should not film this meeting with the President?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not familiar with that.

            Immediately after the briefing, Inner City Press added a request for a "read-out" on Ban Ki-moon's meeting with president Saakashvili, and was told that one would be forthcoming (as it is for nearly all meetings between the Secretary General and heads of state). In the twelve hours following, no information was provided. Georgian sources say the topics included the country's "conflict zones," Abkhazia and South Ossentia. But who's to know?  What ever happened to transparency?

Mr. Ban in Geneva: who is a journalist? No scrum in Georgia

UN Communications Group on Who Is a Journalist

            Inner City Press' second Monday question, and the UN's wordy but incomplete answer, follow:

Inner City Press: I have heard about this meeting of the UN Communications Group in Madrid, recently.  Supposedly, among the things discussed was: What is a journalist?  I am wondering if you could confirm this meeting of the UN Communication Group, and also give some kind of a readout, particularly on that topic, but also on other topics discussed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent the following:

The United Nations Communications Group, which is composed of 40 United Nations system entities, holds an internal annual meeting of heads of public information and communications at rotating locations to discuss issues related to United Nations information policies and programs.  Thirty-seven United Nations entities participated in this year's meeting, which was hosted by the World Tourism Organization in Madrid.

The main focus of this year's annual meeting was to discuss the "One UN" initiative and its impact on United Nations public information and communications at the global and local levels. The annual meeting also discussed the further coordination of United Nations system-wide public information plans on the 2007 Millennium Development Goals midpoint year, climate change and pandemic influenza, among others.

The annual meeting also provided an opportunity to discuss a number of practical issues, like, for example, media accreditation, and ways to share and coordinate media lists; and the need to build and regularly update a United Nations system-wide calendar for coordinating United Nations media launches and events.

The United Nations Communications Group this year also discussed the phenomenon of new media, including webzines, podcasts, wikis and blogs, and how to engage and use these new media, together with traditional media, in communicating the work of the United Nations to a worldwide audience.]

            Sources tell Inner City Press that the topics included not only "how to engage and use these new media," but also how to potential exclude them. A discussion was held in which some, still-unnamed, in the UN "Public Information" orbit posited restrictive and outmoded definitions of journalism, with an eye to exclude new media from the UN. Others, including Inner City Press  sources present at the meeting, put forward more press-friendly, or simply "leave it alone," perspectives.

            Upon receiving the above response in writing, Inner City Press inquired again, seeking an amplification and explanation of the UN"s "who is a journalist" discussion. Inner City Press was told that the above is all that will be said, no list of participants was provided. If and as more information because available, it will be reported on this site. As will any long-delayed response to Inner City Press' previous written inquiry with DPI about the UN finally adopting a Freedom of Information / Access to Information procedure, as most recently promised by Under Secretary General Alicia Barcena...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540