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At UN, UNviewable Debate Plays Bait & Switch With Stiglitz, Partners in Decay

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 4 -- The UN wants to play in the big leagues in terms of communication, which is fine. But there are mounting questions concerning how and if this is being carried out, and at what sacrifice.

  Monday afternoon at the UN illustrates these questions.

  The UN Department of Public Information had promoted a debate on development and good governance, set for 5 pm in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium.

  This "Academic Impact" debate was to have featured Joseph Stiglitz, billed as "Professor of economics, Columbia University, and recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences."

   But at 5:10 pm there was no Stiglitz. The moderator, Maher Nasser of DPI's Outreach Division, described a process of point and counter-point that would add up to 30 minutes. So Inner City Press went to cover the meeting of the Sudan Sanctions committee of the UN Security Council.

  While staking out that meeting, and ultimately speaking with the committee's chairperson about using "good offices" to try to resolve the blocking of one of the sanctions Experts, it should have been possible to follow the UNTV webcast of the debate.

  But also another DPI official, Stephane Dujarric, wrote on February 1 to the Free UN Coalition on Access which raised the issue back in December, "Owing to technical issues that we working to resolve, only some of the live meetings are viewable on iOs devices (iPhones, iPads)."

  But the platform FUNCA complained of is the increasingly ubiquitous Android, on which the live webcast still does not work.

  And so Inner City Press after speaking with the Sudan Sanctions chairperson ran back to the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, where the debate was still ongoing.

  By now, one of the three non-Stiglitz panelists was leaving: Susan Woodward of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York."

   Nasser took two more questions from the Internet -- good -- but then distinguished between those in the room from the beginning of the event, or who came in later.

  Who did the bait and switch? And why can't DPI, with its budget, get its webcast working on a platform as ubiquitous as Android?

The session ended with a mock vote, on whether good governance helps development. But the question was posed in such a way that many in the audience groaned and asked for it to be rephrased.

   In this, it was reminiscent of an event in the same auditorium in late December, a general meeting of DPI's "main" (or only, according to Dujarric) partner, the UN Correspondents Association.

 A 15 minute video, by, is online here.

  At that meeting, right after a vote was taken rejecting naming and shaming those behind on dues, the president of UNCA denounced a particular member by name. What's the use of voting?

  Since then, including the same day of this UN Academic Impact debate, UNCA "leaders" tore down substantive FUNCA flyers, while DPI for now allows UNCA -- and only UNCA -- to maintain a glassed-in bulletin board on which for months in 2012 UNCA displayed a five page letter denouncing the Press. Ah, free speech.

   Now there's talk of UNCA, under challenge, belatedly moving to amend its Constitution. But it already violated its Constititution. Dujarric on January 17 linked UNCA to the League of Nations. And it appears it should and will go the way of the League of Nations. Watch this site.

Footnote: one shame was that of the two remaining debaters, it was a return by Jomo Sundaram, previously of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and now Assistant Director-General at FAO.

   Earlier on Monday Jomo joked to Inner City Press that there are no similarly tough questions at FAO. But here at the UN, no questions allowed - no Monday evening, and prospectively not Wednesday February 6 at noon. UN Department of PRIVATE Information? Watch this site.

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