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For BMW, UN Alliance of Civilizations Shills, Press Grills, Sponsor Lunches

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 22 – When the UN Alliance of Civilization held a press conference at the UN in New York on Friday, one expected to hear of issues such as the amateur video on religion, subsequent rioting and cut-off of YouTube in several countries.

   After all, the last AoC representative Jorge Sampaio said “there is a balance to be found between freedom of expression and respect for religion and for religious feelings and principles.”

  Inner City Press went to the press conference and asked about just this. But the majority of the hour long session was about the corporate sponsor of the UNAOC “Intercultural Innovation Award,” the German car company BMW.

  BMW was extensively praised by the panelists before any questions were allowed. Once they were, Inner City Press asked about the propriety of a UN program like AoC so openly promoting a corporation.

  Jean-Christophe Bas, listed as Senior Advisor of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, said that BMW held helped design the UN program; he said that as a member of the UN Global Compact, BMW “complies with... ten or twelve principles.”

  Inner City Press pointed out that the Global Compact, when Pressed, says it is about reporting, not compliance. Companies are thrown out for not reporting, not for substantive non-compliance with the principles.

  As to BMW, Inner City Press asked about criticism by Greenpeace and others of BMW's role in lobbying against CO2 emission rules in Brussels.

  Again Jean-Christophe Bas launched into praise of BMW, finally saying he is no expert on the environment and that Inner City Press should ask BMW directly.

  But isn't it the UN, through its Alliance of Civilizations, that chose to partner with BMW?

  When asked to cite another UN partnership -- by the New York Times, which can apparently be named -- the answer was UNESCO's arrangement with L'Oreal.

  And who partnered with the Alliance of Civilizations, sponsoring and promoting their UN press conference on Friday?

  Without mentioning the name of any officials, it was the UN Correspondents Association. To be diplomatic we'll will only for now note that there has been more serious controversy about UNCA sponsoring events in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium -- click here for one example -- and more recently, this week, demanding the first question from Bolivia's president Evo Morales, even when he repeatedly said no, he had recognized another (Latina) journalist first.

   There has been no mea culpa about this fiasco, even after the next day's doubling-down. What about this sponsorship of what became, in essence, an attempted advertisement for BMW?

  Without naming the names of officials -- there seems to be some sensitivity about this -- the question is raised, like the question of documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act like this one. And the questions should be answered. Watch this site.

Footnote: Ironically, the Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Matthew Hodes, gave the answer of the afternoon, telling Inner City Press in response to the YouTube video question that there is an absolute right to free speech, it's just a question of how to deal with it. Hear, hear. The Free UN Coalition for Access agrees on the primacy of free speech and freedom of the press. If we omit names in this report, it is entirely by choice and not required. Watch this site.

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