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FOIA Shows UNCA Tried to Oust Press From UN, So FUNCA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 6 -- For four months, Inner City Press has not published one additional word about the United Nations Correspondents Association, even after the organization's treasurer Margaret Besheer had US government Voice of America on behalf of her and so-far unnamed others meet with and ask the UN to "review" Inner City Press' accreditation to enter and cover the UN.

   Documents obtained this week under a Freedom of Information Act appeal prove that Besheer wrote that her Reuters and Agence France Presse colleagues, Lou Charbonneau and Tim Witcher, supported ousting Inner City Press from the UN.

  Only this week did the overseer of Voice of America, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, finally rule on Inner City Press' FOIA appeal, and release additional documents.

  The ruling on the appeal, which can be challenged in a Federal District Court, is here; some of the improperly withheld but now released documents are here and here and here and here.

  The newly released documents show that Voice of America was given a Congressional heads-up that "the work of VOA correspondent on this peer review panel at the UN, it has the potential to kick up a storm up here. For my part, I think it's terrible judgment on the part of your correspondent to participate."  Click here to view that newly released document.

  Even the VoA official who later made the request to the UN to "review" Inner City Press' accreditation stated in writing, it has now been revealed, "Puzzling that Margaret would take up against a reporter who would... be aggressively questioning UN officials and would call on write more positive stories about the UN."

  But then Voice of America was told that AFP was ready to join the attempt to throw Inner City Press out of the UN and that "I think Reuters is up for sending a letter too."  Click here to view that newly released document.

  When Inner City Press complained to Voice of America, including that it was and is unconstitutional to spend US government money to seek to eject a journalist for what he or she writes, the internal VOA memo was "All: Please disregard and do not reply to any email from Matthew Lee or Inner City Press, no matter how insistent."

   This is how a US government agency responded to a petition for redress of grievances? It was and is actionable. And in that connection, more documents have been requested and are expected.

  Given these and other anti-press freedom moves by this UNCA Executive Committee, its legitimacy is and will be challenged, including by a new FUNCA: the Free United Nations Coalition for Access, being launched in beta here.

   To quickly recap: in September 2011, UNCA's outgoing president Giampaolo Piolo threatened that if an article about him was not removed from the Internet, he would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. He invoked an archaic provision of the UNCA constitution; the resulting letter of denunciation has remained posted on UNCA's glassed-in bulletin board for six months. What kind of correspondents' association is this?

  Eight month ago, Pioli's handpicked successor Louis Charboneau of Reuters, after telling Inner City Press in an UNCA meeting that it is too critical of the French mission to the UN, filed a stealth complaint with the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit over a merely verbal disagreement. (An UNCA "examiner" then filed a similar specious complaint with UN Security, which was released under FOIA; it was dismissed as frivolous by UN Security. But there was no reason for any similar verbal exchanges.)

  Then on June 20, Besheer had Voice of America formally asked the UN, on behalf of her and "others," to review the accreditation status of the UN of Inner City Press.

  Inner City Press immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request, including to learn the identity of these unnamed others. Pioli and Charbonneau then asked Inner City Press to withdraw the FOIA request, while threatening to go forward with a Kafka-esque "Board of Examination" report and trial against Inner City Press for what it had said and written.

   The BBG, on which Hillary Clinton has a seat, initially denied and then after appeal granted Inner City Press "expedited treatment" of its FOIA request.

  This came after the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote to the UN citing Voice of America's complaint against Inner City Press and demanding the the UN have content neutral rules for accreditation.

   The first round of documents arrived on August 7, and Inner City Press wrote a short piece that day, linking to some of the documents. Then it appealed the withholdings and redactions, and requested additional documents.

    Then as noted this week the BBG finally ruled on Inner City Press' appeal, and release additional documents. Again, the ruling on the appeal, which can be challenged in a Federal District Court, is here; some of the improperly withheld but now released documents are here and here and here and here.

  The entire UNCA Executive Committee has been asked, twice in writing, to respond to and explain earlier documents which already were "evidence of certain wire services' support for and involvement in the request by US agency Voice of America for 'review' of UN accreditation. The documents also state that UNCA is 'now discussing with UN officials (very quietly)' just that."

  Inner City Press submitted to each UNCA Executive Committee members three of the documents obtained under FOIA "for your response" -- but received none.

   UNCA under Pioli, Charbonneau, Besheer and others such as Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse has devolved into a club for self-protection and censorship. Witcher tried to censor Inner City Press' reporting on the French Mission and its last minute nominee for UN Peacekeeping chief, Herve Ladsous.

On September 18, Ladsous who has sought to bootstrap on UNCA's witchhunt to not answer Press questions about UN Peacekeeping, refused to answer Inner City Press' question about his DPKO helping recruit militias in the Congo and turned to Witcher, who said, "Thank you, sir."

  More recently on November 27, when Inner City Press asked Ladsous about raped committed by his MONUSCO's partners in the Congolese Army in Minovia, Ladsous refused to answer and then summoned a handful of hand-picked journalists into the hall, including Besheer, Charbonneau and Witcher. See video here. These are leaders of the UNCA Executive Committee; this is what they have turned UNCA into.

  And now on December 19, their UNCA will celebrate none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why?

  Because repeated UNCA meetings to demand censorship, even of photographs that Inner City Press ran, came to take up more and more time, Inner City Press sought to put the ugliness into the past by unilaterally ceasing to write about it.

    But now, with UNCA "leadership" sneaking around with Ladsous and the new documents released, action must be taken, including by the new Free United Nations Coalition for Access, being launched in beta here.

   First up: how can the UN delegate administration of passes to cover the UN General Debate in the North Lawn building to UNCA, an organization which now has demonstrably sought to get Press expelled from the UN and claims it is separate from the UN?

   Relatedly, why is this UNCA given special rights to ask the first question at press conferences, and to be the "pool" at other UN events? In fact, a small group of Western wire services masquerade as UNCA, as took place when Ban Ki-moon met Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

  Inner City Press asked the UN MALU, who said Reuters and AFP asked and were given access, in a role that is (wrongly) supposed to be for UNCA. More recently, longtime UN-based photographers were barred.

   The UN and this UNCA cannot have it both ways, and we and FUNCA will be pursuing this. Watch this site.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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