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UNESCO Has No Comment on Crackdown on New Media, Fraud in Guyana, Banned Moroccan Spoof

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 25, updated Aug. 28 -- The UN says it is for press freedom, and its affiliated UNESCO claims to be the "the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend the basic human right of freedom of expression and press freedom." What happens, then, when a journalist is fined for a tongue-in-cheek report including the supposed theft of Ban Ki-moon's wallet? "We are aware of the report" of the fine against the journalist," Ban's spokesperson said on Friday. "But we have not comment on it."

            A journalist is punished for how they covered the Secretary-General, and the UN has no comment? Nor has UNESCO said anything. Ten days ago, Inner City Press asked three separate UNESCO spokespeople for explanations and comments on three issues, including the UN's confidential consideration of cracking down on new media (click here for that), the UN's reported manipulation of the media in Somalia (click here for a new Somalia story), and, most directly, about reported fraud by UNESCO in Guyana. (After publication, UNESCO has sent this link.)

            On this last, Inner City Press provided along with its request for comment a copy of this article, "Fraud Unearthed at Local UNESCO Office," reporting that

A multi-million dollar fraud has been unearthed at the local office of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and an employee of the agency was dismissed following the discovery earlier this year... In excess of $3M was fraudulently removed from the office over a two-year period and an investigation was launched by the Ministry of Education.

According to reports, Minister of Education, Shaik Baksh caused the investigation to be launched and when a report was handed over to the ministry in April of this year the employee was given a letter on April 17 and told to vacate the office the next day. No charges were filed against the employee. Sources say the fraud could have some impact on funding for the local office from the Paris-based body.

When this newspaper contacted Baksh yesterday on the dismissal he said he has to "check the records." Asked to comment on the report of the fraud the minister said he could not do so at the moment as he would have to check the records. The minister did not deny that a fraud occurred at the office but stated that as far as he knew no one was dismissed [then] contacted the office of UNESCO in Georgetown but was told that the office had no country representative and that no one was in a position to speak on the issue...In the meantime the organization remains headless.

            UNESCO's chief of public information, Sue Williams, responded on August 15 that she had "not heard of this before" but would "check it out" if Inner City Press would just "hang on until tomorrow" --

Subj: RE : Press questions for UNESCO: Somalia, Guyana, UNCG, thanks in advance 

From: s.williams [at]

To: Matthew Russell Lee [at], bilello [at], S.Coudray [at]

Date: 8/15/2007 12:36:27 PM Eastern Standard Time

Hi Matthew, Unfortunately today is a public holiday here and I do not have any access to the people I will need to speak to for detailed answers to your questions concerning the media and Somalia.

On the fraud story - I have not heard about this before. I'll need to check it out.

On the  UNCG meeting... Mr Munoz Gomez was the only person who attended from UNESCO to my knowledge. He's on leave till 3 September. But I'll see what I can find out for you. Can you hang on till tomorrow?  

            Sure, Inner City Press replied.

            But a day became a week. Inner City Press sent a reminder, on deadline, to three separate UNESCO spokespeople, not only in Paris but also New York, including a request for comment on press complaints in South Korea. In response? Nothing. (But on August 28, UNESCO provide this link.)

UNESCO's Koichiro Matsuura with artic goodwill ambassador, answers not shown

            Beyond the unaddressed report of UNESCO fraud in Guyana, UNESCO having no response to reports that the UN Development Program has instructed, and presumably paid, Somali news outlets to praise the Transitional Federal Government and its non-inclusive National Reconciliation Congress. No comment on that from UNESCO, the UN's press-focused agency, ten days after a request from the Press, and a promise to answer in a day.

   There is a pattern here. Back on October 26, 2006, Inner City Press asked, but UNESCO never answered, about UNESCO's  plan to name Sri Lanka's former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, to a 14-month term of a Special Consultant to UNESCO on Education for All, the topic of Thursday briefing at UN Headquarters. Opposition has arisen given Mrs. Kumaratunga's human rights record. Click here for more.,

          The next day, Inner City Press asked the UN's spokesman about Morocco barring reporters from the region. From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press question: Morocco has blocked journalists from Norway from visiting Western Sahara. Norway has raised it and said this is a bad thing. I wonder whether UNESCO or the United Nations has any comments.

Spokesman: We can check with UNESCO. I am not aware of these reports. We can look into them.

            No response was ever provided.

From the August 24 UN noon briefing transcript:

Question:  There is a report that a court in Morocco fined a journalist, Mustapha Alaoui, 1,800 euros and withdrew his weekly publication from being circulated, because he reported that Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General, had criticized the attitude of the Moroccan delegation during the Western Sahara negotiations.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don't.  I read the press reports about it and we have the information.  However, I donít have any comments on it.

Question:  Had the Secretary-General criticized the Moroccan delegation?

Spokesperson:  No, it was a spoof -- I mean, it was written in a sarcastic way, and the journalist had said that at the time of the trial.

   But what about the punishment, and banning of the publication? What about press freedom? Where is UNESCO, "the only United Nations agency with a mandate to defend the basic human right of freedom of expression and press freedom"?

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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