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UN Silent as Iraq Suspends TV Licenses, Burundi Cracks Down, As in UNHQ

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 28 -- What has the UN become on press freedom? In Iraq, where the UN has a special political mission, the government has suspended the licenses of ten television channels. Any response by the UN? Not yet.

  If the past is any guide, this UN Secretariat will wait to see what major powers -- read, the US -- has to say about it. But what about Burundi, where the UN also has a mission, and on which major powers are unlikely to say anything?

  Last week the Burundian parliament passed an anti-press law, limiting the subjects that can be covered and the protection of sources. The UN Secretariat said nothing. Today, a journalist Patrick-Paggio Niyonkuru was shot by police. Video here. UN? Anything? Why ask why.

The UN has not responded to Inner City Press' question at the April 24 noon briefing about journalist Blaise Bahisha being arrested in Goma by the Congolese authorities. There was no “if-asked” from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous.

On April 23 in the UN Committee on Information, UNESCO spoke of a UN Plan to protect journalists, which would be much needed. Not enough has been said about the editor in Mali facing charges for reporting on the windfall to coup leader Amadou Sanago.

  It's unclear what the UN did while a reporter was in danger in Central African Republic recently. And what of Prageeth, disappeared in Sri Lanka? These are only examples.

  As noted on May 2, for World Press Freedom Day, the UN is holding an event. But beyond the contradiction listed above, the event itself has false notes. On the panel is the spokesman for DPKO chief Herve Ladsous, Kieran Dwyer.

 Not only has Ladsous openly refused to answer Press questions, for example about 126 rapes in Minova by the Congolese Army, his partner -- his spokesman Kieran Dwyer has said, on camera, that Inner City Press questions will not be answered. What respect for freedom of the press? Dwyer and Ladsous did this again on April 25. Video here.

  Also on the panel, seemingly automatically but we'd say inappropriately, is Pamela Falk of CBS, the president of the UN Correspondents Association. Earlier this year, while the UN conducted a non-consensual raid on the Press' office, Falk was ghoulishly taking photographs. Then she issued a legal threat, through her e-mail account, to “cease and desist” even asking why she was taking photographs. Freedom of the press?

  The UN Department of Public Information conducted the raid; photographs taken while it was in control of Inner City Press' office, including photos of the Press' desk and bookshelf, were shared and leaked to BuzzFeed right after that publication contacted Ban Ki-moon's spokesman to ask about the raid.

  DPI has been asked by the Free UN Coalition for Access to explain and make full disclosure on this, as a way of moving forward. We continue to wait.

  UNCA, as noted, spent much of 2012 trying to get the Press thrown out of the UN. Just last month, one of its Executive Committee members Tim Witcher filed a false complaint with the UN, leading with the claim that Inner City Press' question to Ladsous on March 8 about the Minova rapes as “abusive.” Also on the May 2 panel is Joel Simon of CPJ - which has a blind spot.

UNCA first vice president Louis Charbonneau of Reuters complained as well this year, about the content of Inner City Press' website - to UN Security. To try to use Security forces against a media for its content? This from UNCA's first vice president. Some freedom of the press. Some event.

  Also as we noted, May 2 will have a more reform-minded event. Now it can be said: the “Small Five” on Security Council will rise again, as ACT: Accountability, Coherence and Transparency. We'll have more on this.

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