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At UN Attacks on Media Event, No Qs from Media, UNESCO DDG & Ethiopia

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 3 -- When the UN held its event for the first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists a day late on November 3, not a single question from a journalist was taken.

 Instead, speaking from the podium was for example UNESCO's Deputy Director General Getachew Engida of Ethiopia, a country which just sentenced to three years in jail journalist Temesgen Desalegn.

This journalist's imprisonment, for “provocation,” is hardly low profile; either is that of the Ethopian Zone 9 Bloggers. But the moderator, UNESCO's George Papagiannis, did not raise the issue, even as he purported to read out congratulatory live-tweets about the event.

  (IFEX to its credit did reply to one of @InnerCityPress' tweets questioning the event and how it was run, here. By another, it was suggested that maybe Engida, even with his many UN system posts, is a dissident from Ethiopia. But it does not seem like it: see recent photo here.)

Nor did any of the other panelists raise it: Joel Simon of CPJ, Greece's Ambassador, Columbia University's Agnes Callamard. The lone media panelist, from Al Arabiya, spoke without irony about naming and shaming countries which jail critics for mere tweets: many in the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula.

Inner City Press as media, and the new Free UN Coalition for Access, had this question ready:

about an underpinning to deadly attacks on journalist: the idea that they are parties to a conflict, or can be prosecuted for their reporting on national security. Can the panel, particularly the Deputy Director General of UNESCO, comment on Ethiopia jailing journalist Temesgen Desalegn for three years for “provocation”? Or, to be fair, the prosecutions here in the US of James Rosen, James Risen and Barrett Brown, set to be sentenced on November 24? Of the breaking up of meetings of reporters in Sri Lanka, a country in which journalists have been killed or “disappeared,” as in the case of Prageeth. What is the relation of such prosecutions to the actual killing of journalists?”

But, as noted, the hour and a half long panel took not a single question from a journalist. At the day's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric if Ban while in Ethiopia recently to make it the third largest UN “duty station” had in any way raised the case of journalist Temesgen Desalegn.

 Apparently not. This is how the UN works, or doesn't.


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