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On Ebola, Ban Sends UNMEER to Mali, 2 Qs With WHO Which Banned BuzzFeed

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 21 -- After an Ebola meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board in Washington, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the World Health Organization's Margaret Chan on November 21 took two questions from the media: both American, NPR and AP.

  Ban Ki-moon said that he has asked Tony Banbury of the UNMEER mission to open up in Mali, given the spread of ebola there. Previously Inner City Press asked the UN to confirm that its Mali Mission MINUSMA has canceled its contract with the Pasteur Institute in Bamako; the UN has yet to confirm it.

  Not mentioned by Ban is that his envoy to Mali Bert Koenders cut and ran, in the middle of the crises, to become Dutch foreign minister. So WHO is running the UN's show in Mali?

  As to WHO, last week it ham-handedly cc-ed BuzzFeed on its internal email stating that BuzzFeed reporter Jina Moore, "who on two occasions reported inaccurately," is banned. (Mashable has posted the chain of WHO e-mails, here.)

  Inner City Press at the UN's noon briefing on November 14 asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about WHO banning BuzzFeed. Video here and embedded below.

 Haq said he'd read the reports but wasn't sure if they are correct -- there doesn't seem to be any dispute of the authenticity of the WHO emails. Haq said to asked WHO - but it is a part of the UN system. Isn't there a system wide policy?

 Inner City Press asked again on November 21, just before Ban's and Chan's joint press availability. Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric replied that much as he'd like to ban some media, they don't and he hopes his colleagues don't. Video here.

  During Ban's tenure at the head of the UN system, his Under Secretaries General have been allowed to pick and choose which media to respond to, to say on camera, "I don't respond to you," even to block -- or Ban -- a media's camera filming from the authorized UN General Assembly stakeout, Vine here.

  Things have reached this state in part because the old United Nations Correspondents Association, which one would expect to push back, has joined in the censorship trend.

  For example, UNCA's then-president Giampaolo Pioli demanded that an article describing his financial relationship with Sri Lanka's ambassador be removed from the Internet or he would get the Press thrown out of the UN.

  Lo and behold, an UNCA then-board member from Voice of America wrote a letter to the UN requesting just that; an Inner City Press FOIA request showed Voice of America said it had the support of the UN bureau chiefs of AFP and Reuters -- which has gotten Google to block -- or Ban -- from Search even its complaint to the UN, claiming it is private and subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This UN breeds censorship.

   Still, WHO's written explanation of a ban for "inaccurate reporting" in the middle of a health crisis is a new low. We and the new Free UN Coalition for Access will have more on this.  For now, consider the UN did nothing when the President of Sierra Leone jailed a journalist for his reporting on Ebola, as well as for daring to question President Ernest Bai Koroma's performance.

  The UN had a peacekeeping mission in the country, has a Country Team and now the UN Mission on Ebola Emergency Response, UNMEER. So at the UN's November 5 noon briefing Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: In Sierra Leone a journalist, David Tam-Baryoh, has been put in jail, maximum security prison, for his reporting on Ebola under a law that says that it is a crime to undermine Government efforts to fight the epidemic. He's also questioned the third term for the Presiden Koroma. So, I wanted to know what is the UN system, given its involvement through UNMEER and otherwise, what do they say about this case? Also, it seems does UNMEER have any human rights mandate or component to it? I thought all kind of UN entities had some overarching or inherent Rights Up Front…

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric: There's a country office in all three countries. Human Rights Up Front does apply to all UN staff and missions. What is… I don't have the particulars of this case, but it is clear that journalists need to be allowed to do their work free of intimidation and fear.

Inner City Press: What about a law that says, obviously, it's important to fight Ebola, but should a journalist be, should a law exist in which you clearly could be arrested for…?

Spokesman: I think, clearly, the media has a very important role to play in fighting… in part of our response against Ebola, whether it's fighting stigmatization or other issues.

Those are generalities, but what is the UN doing? What does Ban Ki-moon's "Rights Up Front," born of his failure in Sri Lanka in 2009, really mean? Inner City Press and the Free UN Coalition for Access have been told that UN inquiries are being made. We'll have more on this.


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