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As Ban Spoon-Feeds Censoring Scribes, Of Mary Lyall Grant, NYT, Salon & TIME Pick Ups

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 8 – How dysfunctional have relations between the media and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon become?

  On Thursday, Ban spoon-fed exclusive but bland quotes primarily about North Korea to 13 hand-picked correspondents during an annual ritual luncheon in his 38th floor office.

  In the UN's basement the Security Council's meeting on Yemen was staked out at its height by four journalists, falling to two for most of the afternoon, including Inner City Press. Click here for the Inner City Press story about the Council's Yemen meeting.

  Reflecting the lack of focus on Yemen, Agence France Presse at the UN wrote a story about the meeting, without deigning to come cover it or the stakeout by envoy Jamal Benomar; AFP's story focused almost entirely on the allegation that Iran had sent weapons to rebels in Yemen.

   Another wire service which covered the meeting referred to long time UK Ambassador to the UN as “Mary Lyall Grant” rather than Mark.

  This apparently Ban-induced gender-bending reference was reproduced by the New York Times, TIME and Salon, among other outlets, in their Iran-heavy coverage of the Council meeting.

   As the session broke up, Inner City Press asked the actual Mark Lyall Grant if the weapons allegedly from Iran took the focus away from the Yemen transition issues.

   Lyall Grant told Inner City Press that while there is a move for a press statement on the weapons issues – Inner City Press understands that China on Thursday said it had to check with Beijing – there is also a move for a Presidential Statement on the Yemen issues. But how and where would that be reported?

   AFP also wrote a breathless North Korea story using Ban lunch quotes given “to a small group of reporters, including AFP.”

   While this might make it appear to the reader that this was a “small group” based on merit or hard-nosed reporting, it was in fact just 13 or the 15 members of the Executive Committee of the decaying UN Correspondents Association.

   Tellingly, the top six UNCA officials were each “elected” without any competition last month, after the deadline set in UNCA's own Constitution, and after a year in which the UNCA Executive Committee spent most of its meetings trying to censor then expel the investigative Press in 2012.

Ban Ki-moon's UNCA Lunch of the Lost, Feb 7, 2013, credit Evan Schneider, UNPhoto. From left: OSSG's Del Buey; Denis Fitzgerald of Saudi Press Agency; OSSG's Nesirky; Melissa Kent of CBC; Sylviane Zehil of L'Orient le Jour; Tim Witcher of AFP; Ali Barada of An-Nahar; Ban Ki-moon, Kahraman Halicelik of Turkish Radio & TV; Pamela S. Falk of CBS; Lou Charbonneau of Reuters; Bouchra Benyoussef of Maghreb Arab Press; Yasuomi Sawa of Kyodo News; Masood Haider of Dawn; Unkonwn; Zhenqiu Gu of Xinhua; Stephane Dujarric of UN DPI

   In 2013, nor has UNCA's new president Pam Falk – to Ban's left and elected like all five other officers including Charbonneau, over her left shoulder, without any competition but with lower vote counts than the previous year – said anything as FUNCA flyers have been torn down and counterfeited just outside her office.

  Thursday Falk re-tweeted the UN photo above of the insiders' luncheon the quotes from which were withheld for hours even from Falk's own dues-paying UNCA members.

   Falk has remained silent about UNCA's descent into censorship and attempts to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN. 

   Documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act show that in asking the UN to “review” the accreditation of Inner City Press, Voice of America said it has the support of Louis Charbonneau of Reuters, who was in a blue blazer at the lunch and still afterward pursuing Iran outside the Security Council's Yemen meeting, and Tim Witcher of AFP.

   Tellingly, five hours after the lunch it was AFP's Witcher who published a story with Ban quotes about North Korea, sourced as “Ban told a small group of reporters, including AFP.”

   Only after this ran were "key quotes" e-mailed to some other journalists, here -- none of which concerned Sudan, Haiti or the Congo for example. Complaints have been lodged, first by members of the new Free UN Coalition for Access, then by FUNCA itself.

  As reported, the UNCA “leaders” created an on again, off again counterfeit social media account to attack not only Inner City Press but others seen joining FUNCA, calling them all non-media activists. (If "media" means anonymity, elitism and errors as above, count us out.) 

 UNCA expelled a journalist after she joined FUNCA. Now more have joined FUNCA including confidentially, and have gained through advocacy fairer treatment.

   Recently the chief of Ban's Department of Public information has indicated for example that work continues on some fair treatment for the Free UN Coalition for Access, for example permitting it a bulletin board like UNCA has to avoid the UNCA tear-down of flyers every night. We were heartened, but are awaiting this simplest of reforms.

    But it remains archaic and now inappropriate, this Ban lunch and the exclusive quotes, not given to the journalists who actually went to the day's noon briefing (and Security Council stakeouts in the morning about Sudan, and in the afternoon about Yemen).

  This is a monopoly for a decayed and debated organization which has lost that right. And it is inappropriate.

  Ban speaks about democracy and the rule of law, but UNCA's Executive Committee violated its constitution by not having their election by December 15, and staying in office past January 1. When challenged, they shouted down the questioner, video here.

  One of the origins of the UNCA Executive Committee's dis-accreditation push was Inner City Press' reporting on Sri Lanka, as issue on which Ban has appeared in different lights.

  UNCA does not defend journalists: it attacks some journalists. We will work for a better, fairer and less corrupt future, with free speech and press for all. Watch this site.

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