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AFP's Witcher Complained to UN of How Press Questioned Ladsous At Syria Meeting

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 -- How does the UN work? Today we re-examine how media like Agence France-Presse, doing the bidding of "their" country and the officials they foist on the UN, try to get other journalists thrown out of the UN by filing complaints they seek to keep secret.

   Based on a US Freedom of Information Act request, the fact that AFP sought to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN has been exposed, in a document published online here. But there's more to it.

  On March 8, 2013 Tim Witcher of AFP wrote to the UN Department of Safety and Security complaining how Inner City Press asked a question of Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to head UN Peacekeeping. Witcher wrote to UN DSS:

"At the UN Security Council media stakeout area on Friday, March 8, 2013, I was stood [sic] with other news agency, television and newspaper journalists waiting, as per normal practice, for officials to arrive for a meeting on Syria. Mr Lee started shouting at and abusing under secretary general Ladsous as he came down the stairs for the meeting. Mr Ladsous did not respond... Mr. Lee has a longstanding campaign of harassment against AFP, Reuters and other UN media in his written blog."

   It is noteworthy not only that AFP's Witcher thought to complain to UN Security about a written blog, but also that it was Witcher, and not Ladsous, who filed this complaint.

  In fact, all Inner City Press did was ask Ladsous a question about a UN cover-up, and repeated it when Ladsous refused to offer any answer, as even his predecessors Alain Le Roy and Jean-Marie Guehenno would routinely do.

(Inner City Press asked Guehenno about the kidnapping of peacekeepers from Nepal in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guehenno replied with what the kidnapper, still free, was asking for. Le Roy answered on the obvious question of whether UN Peacekeeping, ceded to France for more than a decade, was being used to advance French colonial foreign policy in Cote d'Ivoire.)

  The meeting that day was about Syria. Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping, as first exposed by Inner City Press, had pulled the plug on the UN mission there, as while the head of the mission there Robert Mood did not know about it. Ladsous never explained his role; AFP's Witcher on this and other topics never published but sought to keep the investigative Press away from Ladsous, to the point of trying to get it thrown out of the UN.

AFP's Tim Witcher at UN; his March 8, 2013 complaint not then shown

  Even though or because AFP's Witcher didn't publish obvious but critical stories -- for recent example Witcher allowed the UN's envoy on cholera in Haiti to say that legal wrangling should be dispensed with in order to focus on the cholera that UN Peacekeeping brought to to island, without asking why the UN refused legal papers and if the case it is dodging has cost it any more -- he joined a small group of similar reporters in seeking to get private, spoon-fed (or lapdog) briefings.

  As luck would have it, one of these was captured on video, regarding Ladsous. After Ladsous, in a sense encouraged and "empowered" by coverage like that of AFP's Witcher, openly refused to answer Press questions about over 100 rapes in Minova in the the DRC by Congolese Army units UN Peacekeeping support, Ladsous summoned Witcher into the hallway, behind a glass door, for an "all French" briefing which included at least two other non-French reporters.

  The other reporters are Margaret Besheer of Voice of America and Lou Charbonneau of Reuters; click here to view the video which Charbonneau has yet to get Google to block from its search mis-using while citing Reuters the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (This too is how the UN works.)

  The letter Witcher gave to the UN Department of Safety and Security cited another Reuters reporter who works under Charbonneau.

  On March 8, 2013, after both ran stories based on a UN Peacekeeping spoonfed briefing spinning the very Minova rapes that Ladsous had repeatedly refused to answer public Press questions about -- click here for compilation video, here for UK coverage -- this Reuters reporter is the one who said to Inner City Press, after Ladsous again refused to answer, that some correspondents work behind the scenes and have sources. The response was and is: lapdog. This is how the UN works.

  If AFP's Witcher writing, even this manipulatively, to the UN was a one-off event it would be one thing. But in fact Witcher tried to use bureaucracy to defend Ladsous and the French Mission to the UN from Ladsous' first day.

 Inner City Press had reported that another Frenchman, Jerome Bonnafont, had been told he would replace Le Roy atop UN Peacekeeping; Inner City Press even exclusively published a congratulation card addressed to Bonnafont at the UN by French politician Jean-Marie Bockel. But due to Bonnafont's bragging, the UN told France to send another successor, and got Ladsous, previously twice rejected in favor of Guehenno then Le Roy.

  The morning that Ladsous was announced, Inner City Press learned through sources that French Mission spokesman Stephane Crouzat had told a number of French journalists that Bonnafont was the guy. Inner City Press included this in the story, as indicative of how last-minute the switch to Ladsous had been.

  Witcher claimed that he had been the source of the information -- he wasn't -- and invoked the bureaucracy of the United Nations Correspondents Association against Inner City Press. Inner City Press said, and says, this benefited and protected not only Ladsous but also the French Mission and Crouzat.

  Notably, Crouzat threatened Inner City Press that its publication of leaked documents was a "hostile act," while refusing to provide any comment on the documents. This too is how the UN works, still. And it is why the new Free UN Coalition for Access has been founded: to defend the right of free press and independent investigative journalism in the UN system.

  The old UNCA, now under Pamela Falk of CBS, cannot be counted on to defend free press, quite the contrary. As simply one example, when a journalist was thrown out of the UN for a single error (bringing a rubber prop gun from an independent film in as equipment by mistake) not only did UNCA not defend the journalist -- Reuters' Charbonneau wrote a story mocking the journalist's media and the country it comes from.

  Witcher's next step is away not only from the UN but also from non-sports reporting: he will cover "le sport" for AFP in Paris. Will he become as defensive of French sports figures as he did of Ladsous and the French mission? Will he tell other journalists how to ask questions of these French figures? Watch this site.


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