At UN, France and
UK Privatize Their Spin, US Is Terse, S. Africa Longed For
Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis
April 10 -- In the aftermath of North Korea's rocket launch a week
ago, the varying communications strategies of UN Security Council
members have been put in bold relief. When the meeting of the
Permanent Five members and Japan broke up on
the night of April 9,
Japan was the most verbose, understandable since the rocket went over
their territory. New US Ambassador Susan Rice offered only one line
as she rushed out.
Thursday, a protest in
front of the UN Mission by Tamils, asking for
the US to stop the Sri Lankan government's assault on that country's
so-called No Fire Zone, went apparently unremarked by Ms. Rice and
company. Even China, which opposes both a resolution on the North
Korean rocket and the inclusion of Sri Lanka on the Council agenda,
offered a sentence to the waiting press.
neither France nor the UK said anything to the assembled
UN-accredited correspondents. Increasingly, these countries
Ambassador seek to speak privately to a sub-set of the press, outside
the UN building, at the Missions or Ambassadors homes.
Thursday, French Ambassador Ripert spoke to a by invitation only
group of reporters three blocks from the UN, in the access-controlled
building France shares with the UK, the UN Pension Fund and others.
With numerous France-relevant events raising questions about his
country's foreign policy -- the protection of Madagascar's coup
leader by France, the
French foreign legionnaire who shot and killed
a UN peacekeeper from Togo in former French colony Chad, and French
foreign minister Kouchner's reported profiting as a consultant for
these countries -- Ripert has of late become less accessible.
past the media stakeout this week, he quipped, Madagascar? Nobody
cares. But then the reporters who ask about
the topic were not
invited to his private Q&A. (Language is sometimes misused as an
excuse, as when President Sarkozy excluded all but "French" press from
a briefing in the UN's Room 226.) It's diplomacy as public relations,
rather than information provision for transparency.
UK Mission gives its real view of issues at off-the-record Wednesday
breakfasts to which only some reporters are invited. Why the media
would allow a Permanent Five member to spin without attribution about
smaller countries and even individuals, for example those on the UN's
various sanctions lists, is unclear.
UK's Sawers and France's Ripert, private spin not
These breakfasts are
supplemented by social events, such as an April 4 farewell to
departing Deputy Permanent Representative Karen Pierce, held in her
amble apartment over Park Avenue. Several reporters who critically
cover the UK's foreign policy, for example on Sri Lanka, were not
invited; at the event, UN officials like Nigerian former diplomat
Ibrahim Gambari doled out sensitive information such as Ban Ki-moon's
plans to travel, or not, to Myanmar.
In the nature
of full disclosure, when Ms. Pierce first arrived at the UN just
after the last North Korean missile imbroglio in 2006, after one
emergency weekend meeting Inner City Press showed her how to exit the
UN and asked, what will happen if North Korea violates this
resolution. Ms. Pierce gave an answer, which Inner City Press
reported online later that day.
Early the next week Ms. Pierce
expressed outrage that she had been quoted. Inner City Press tried to
explain that its understanding of the (unwritten) rules of UN press
is that Ambassador speak on the record unless they say otherwise,
while spokespeople for some reason are usually on background.
Pierce disagreed, and Inner City Press out of respect modified the
Later her then-spokesman complained when Inner
City Press reported what lead Ambassador John Sawers told his
breakfast interlocutors, which appeared different than what he said
at the public stakeout. (Publicly he said the propriety of a $250
million no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin was a matter for the UN,
at the breakfast he defended the contract, for super-camps in Darfur
that Lockheed never built, as "necessary," click here
for the story.)
There must be a reason for all this private
spin. But that ostensible free press and transparency proponents
France and UK are private spin's main practitioners is more than a
having again an increasingly expansive foreign policy, speaks at the
stakeout microphone only on issues directly of interest to it, like
Kosovo, Georgia and to some degree Iran. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin
speaks more to the Russian language press; sometimes if he does not
like their reports or even headlines, complaints are made and action
non-permanent members, reporters have recently expressed nostalgia
for South Africa's Dumisani Kumalo, who during this week-long private
negotiation would have been sure to come to the stakeout to complain
about countries like his being excluded, even from getting drafts.
Costa Rica's Jorge Urbina for a time took up the mantle of
democratization, but as one of his colleagues told Inner City Press,
at the UN Costa Rica is not a big enough country to have heft behind
Viet Nam, while affable in different ways, speak little to the press.
(Former member Panama left little mark if any on the Council's work.)
Burkina Faso's Ambassador Michel Kafando is always genial, but he
has not spoken to the press in some time. (His country and it capital
were ridiculed last week on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, as having
delayed the Council's reaction to North Korea's Taepodong.)
Heller, before being Council president this month, told some
reporters he was not authorized to talk without specific permission
from Mexico D.F. (it is hoped that this month's greater openness
continues in May and beyond.)
Austria is up and coming, but appears
subservient to the UK and France. Libya spins mostly to the Arab
speaking press. Uganda is rarely heard from; a just-issued human
rights report would make for good Q and A. Turkey, surprisingly,
speaks very little as well.
countries one would expect to speak
the most at the UN -- the UK, France and to some degree the U.S. --
do so less and less, at least publicly. Then the UN complains about a
lack of mainstream coverage, and Council members complain about a
lack of effectiveness.
for a new YouTube video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian
in Sri Lanka.
Click here for Inner City
Press' March 27 UN debate
Click here for Inner City
Press March 12 UN (and AIG
Click here for Inner City
Press' Feb 26 UN debate
12 debate on Sri Lanka http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/17772?in=11:33&out=32:56
Click here for Inner City Press' Jan.
16, 2009 debate about Gaza
Click here for Inner City Press'
review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate
Click here for Inner
City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger
Click here from Inner City Press'
December 12 debate on UN double standards
Click here for Inner
City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics
and this October 17 debate, on
Security Council and Obama and the UN.
* * *
usually also available through Google
News and on Lexis-Nexis.
for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click
for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali
Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017
earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
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