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Reuters & AFP Sought Ouster from UN of Inner City Press, US Records Show

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 8 -- When the US government broadcaster Voice of America asked the UN on June 20 to "review" the accreditation status of Inner City Press, the UN Correspondents Association's president Giampaolo Pioli and first vice president Louis Charbonneau of Reuters claimed they had nothing to do with the request.

   On June 30, however, the two demanded that Inner City Press withdraw a Freedom of Information Act request it had filed for records related to VOA's complaint, or face a release of a one-sided UNCA report and a subsequent show trial seeking to vote Inner City Press out.

   Inner City Press did not withdraw the FOIA request. It stopped writing about the dispute until now, on August 8, when some 800 pages of documents requested under FOIA were released, while at least 150 pages have been withheld. (An appeal is being prepared).

   Even on first review, the documents show that Reuters and Agence France Presse, among others, were part of the campaign to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. They conferred with "UN officials," yet to be named; Reuters conferred with the US Mission to the UN.

  On June 18 at 12:40 pm, VOA's Margaret Besheer e-mailed her editor Steve Redisch that "My Reuters colleague just told me his people are probably going to go the same route - to press UN to pull Mr. Lee's UN accreditation." Click here for that e-mail, released August 7 under FOIA.

   The "Reuters colleague" is UNCA president in waiting Lou Charbonneau, who expressed outrage at Inner City Press complaining of his byline on unauthorized uncredited use of Inner City Press exclusive reporting, then said he has a policy of not crediting Inner City Press.

   When Besheer, Charbonneau and others -- the names have been redacted -- received a complaint about their censorship campaign that was send to Capitol Hill and to the US Mission to the UN, Besheer recounts that Charbonneau "asked the US Mission" about the complaint.  Click here that e-mail, including a threat that Reuters would sue Inner City Press.

  Reuters' threats came after Inner City Press several times requested a copy of the company's policy for crediting the exclusives for other, smaller media from four Reuters officials: Stephen J. Adler, Editor in Chief; Greg McCune, Ethics & Training; Walden Siew, Top News Editor; and Paul Ingrassia, Deputy Editor in Chief.

  Reuters never responded, but rather sought to "press the UN to pull" Inner City Press' accrediation, along with Agence France Presse.

Charbonneau shakes -- on what? -- with Ban Ki-moon, (c) Luiz Rampelotto

   As to Agence France Presse, on June 18 at 12:58 pm, Besheer wrote to VOA's lawyers that

"My AFP colleague asks if they could possibly get the tenor of our letter so they can stay on message and ask In the same way. Their legal dept is in France, so It would be their regional director in Washington contacting UN on their behalf."

  The "AFP colleague" is Timothy Witcher who previously sought to use the UNCA bureaucracy to admonish Inner City Press for an accurate article concerning the French Mission to the UN and Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to head UN Peacekeeping.

  They couldn't stop Inner City Press from reporting, so they sought to get it thrown out of the UN.

 On June 11, citing Bloomberg News, Besheer wrote that "UNCA now discussing with UN officials (very quietly) next steps... They will have to step up and do their part -and pull his accreditation. It is my understanding that UN legal dept is now involved." Click here to view this troubling e-mail, regarding which we will have more.

   Who were these UN officials discussing quietly with the UN Correspondents Association the planned ouster from the UN of Inner City Press?

  The documents produced include a response to VOA's Redisch from UN official Stephane Dujarric, formerly the spokesman for Kofi Annan, referring to Redisch's emailed complaint against Inner City Press of the previous day, stating "Dear Steve, thank you for your email. I will call you later this week. Click here.

  But also on June 21, the records also show, once Inner City Press obtained and published the (first) complaint on the same day it was filed, VOA received nearly immediate inquiries from Capitol Hill about its attack on freedom of the Press and in particular Inner City Press' investigative journalism at the UN.

  On the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which ostensibly oversees VOA, demands were made for copies of Besheer's and her editor Steve Redisch's e-mails.

  In one e-mail, Redisch wonders how the requesters on the Hill would like Inner City Press if it were covering the Senate.

  At the UN, the official to whom the request to "review" Inner City Press was directed, Dujarric, first denounced Inner City Press for obtaining and publishing the request, then ultimately begrudgingly granted Inner City Press a shorter extension of credentials than in previous years, while leaving the VOA threat pending.

  Dujarric's incoming boss Peter Launsky- Tieffenthal has been asked by the New York Civil Liberties Union to describe the UN's process for accrediting journalists, with specific reference to Voice of America's complaint against Inner City Press. Click here for that.

  The UN and UNCA both claim to be unrelated, as regards accrediation. But not only is this UNCA a party to the UN's Media Access Guidelines - the records released today should the submission of UNCA supposedly internal documents to VOA in support of its complaint to try to get Inner City Press expelled by and from the UN. We will have more on this.

  Perhaps most unseemly for the UN, at the heart of the dispute is an attempt by UNCA president Giampaolo Pioli to get removed from the Internet a factually accurate September 21, 2011 Inner City Press story that Pioli in the past rented one of his 12 Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona, then the chief of the UN Treaty Section.

  In September 2011 Pioli without first checking with elected UNCA Executive Committee members like Inner City Press granted the request of his former tenant Kohona, now Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN, to screen a Sri Lankan government propaganda film denying the very 2009 war crimes that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was forced to commission a report about.

Pioli behind UNCA banner, Kohona & Silva not shown, (c) Luiz Rampelotto

  At the screening Pioli granted, Kohona was joined by General Shavendra Silva, reportedly responsible for 4500 deaths in May 2009, who is now on Ban's Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping Operations. Ladsous has refused to answer Inner City Press questions on this, or anything else.

  On June 1, Lynne Weil wrote to three Voice of America officials that UNCA was"moving to expel a member whose apparent aggressiveness in interviewing a UN official prompted a UNCA investigation." E-mail here, emphasis supplied.

  Pioli told Inner City Press to take the story down, or he would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN.

  The Voice of America documents released today under FOIA make plain that the basis for trying to throw Inner City Press out of the UN was entirely what it wrote or in one case said.

  Inner City Press commented to Besheer that some on Capitol Hill might question the use of taxpayer money to try to throw an investigative reporter out of the UN. Besheer trumped up this remark as a "threat" -- which VOA has since described as such in the course of the resulting inquiry (on which we'll have more soon.)

  That there would be Congressional interest turned out to be accurate, and within days of the June 20 complaint, VOA's lawyers were preparing a draft memo for the BBG Governors which include, among others, Dana Perino and Hillary Clinton.

  Then it was decided that "less is more." There follow a slew of heavily redacted pages. Inner City Press is preparing a FOIA appeal of these withholdings, and will continue to report on the documents.

Besheer in front of UNCA logo, taxpayer $ not show, (c) Luiz Rampelloto

  Questions include is it legitimate not only for a US government broadcaster like VOA but global wire services like Reuters and Agence France Presse (which derives over 40% of its income from French government "subscriptions") to meet secretly with UN officials conspiring to get a smaller, investigative web site thrown out of the UN? Watch this site.

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