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As FUNCA Presses at UN for Access, UNCA Focused on Insulating Its President

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 23 -- After a week of questions about UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon seeming to have gotten questions in advance of his most recent press conferences, to whom does it matter?

  To the Free UN Coalition for Access, it is important that the UN be required to answer questions, and not hide behind questions known in advance.  Inner City Press video here; Press and Free UN Coalition for Access story here.

  But the only response by the old United Nations Correspondents Association, for which the UN Spokesman and other but not all others in the UN set aside first questions, has been to insist that its outgoing president Pamela Falk did not give her question in advance.
  Similarly, when the absurdity of the UN Correspondents Association, which the UN Secretariat says distributes information to those who cover the UN, blocking Inner City Press from its moribund Twitter feed is raised, the response is to claim that Pam Falk does not run that account.

  But earlier in 2014, the UNCA account and Falk's own account zoomed up, seemingly with bought followers, at exactly the same time. And once outed, when Falk said it was somehow the result of being hacked, both accounts went back down at the same time. So how doesn't she run it? And if not her, who does run it? The entire 15 member Executive Committee?

  In 2012 members of the UN Executive Committee, to which Inner City Press had been elected, complained about a public domain photograph Inner City Press published. Inner City Press in that instance granted their request that the photograph be taken down - but then took steps so they could no longer claim to be offended and demand censorship.

  In another case, when Inner City Press modified an article about UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous at the demand of Agence France Presse and its allies on the UNCA board, they used the change as indicative of some problem with the story. But there was no problem: the story was entirely true.

  And so, going into 2015, the Free UN Coalition for Access will be ramping up pressing for greater access, for a Freedom of Information Act covering the UN, and for no more special favors or status for UNCA, become the UN's Censorship Alliance.

  In that spirit, on December 23 Inner City Press for FUNCA asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric the following (transcript; video here)

Inner City Press: yesterday you sent me an answer saying that a particular question asked at the Secretary-General’s press conference hadn't been given to you in advance, and I appreciate that.  But I’d asked about the briefing as a whole.  Is it possible to just get a yes or no, whether in the briefing that was held on 17 December, if any of the questions were provided in advance so that answers could be read?

Spokesman Dujarric:  You know, it's, again, you had alluded to Pam's question.  I answered you.  Questions are not planted in this briefing and it is my job for the… my job to be prepared and to prepare the Secretary-General.  I frankly, you know, I've been… I glided through high school, made it through college, never went to grad school, but I've been here 15 years, and I've studied all of you pretty closely, and I kind of know almost to a fault what question everybody's going to ask.  So…

Inner City Press: I really appreciate that.  I want it to be clear.  The question I asked about, the one I specifically asked you sitting here and you standing there, was about the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  It was about question 7 out of 10 and it was in French.  So I’m sort of, I guess I'm thinking, maybe if it's in a different language, is that then appropriate to provide it in advance?  I just wonder.

Spokesman:  I really have nothing else to add to what I've just said to you.

  On December 18, Inner City Press for FUNCA first asked Dujarric, for the record, if questions had been given in advance. Dujarric said, twice, that it is his job to get Ban Ki-moon ready for the press conference.

  Does that mean getting questions in advance? Dujarric repeated the same answer. Video here.

 On December 22, Dujarric sent this, which we near-instantly published:

Dear Matthew,

Just to make sure there's no misunderstanding, Pam Falk did not submit her question to me in advance of the SG's press conference on Wednesday. She had never submitted any question to me in advance.

Best, Steph

Via my Roman Tablet Mark VI

   Duly noted, or at least, published. Overall, the answer seems strange when compared to Inner City Press' specific question on December 18 about Ban on December 18 reading a particularly answer from notes. UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask and I would like to hear your answer to this, I wanted to ask about the press conference held yesterday, if you can confirm or deny that at least certain of the questions were provided in advance to the Secretary-General and he read an answer to them.  And I ask this because it seems if we are here having what seems to be a press conference, it seems at least important to at least know if it's scripted.

Spokesman Dujarric:  No, I think the press conference is not scripted.  It's my job as the Secretary-General's Spokesman to be ready for this briefing and to be ready for… to help the Secretary-General be ready for his briefing.

Inner City Press: On the answer on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, his entire answer was read out.  And I'm saying this with all due respect, but is this normal?  Is it normal in a press conference to have an answer known in advance and an answer read out?

Spokesman Dujarric:  I think, as I said, Matthew, it's my job to be ready for the briefings and to make sure the Secretary-General is ready for his.

Inner City Press:  Does that include knowing what questions will be asked?  There is a big difference.

Spokesman Dujarric:  Those are the only words I can use.  So, anything else?  Yes, I'll come back to you.

  So why respond after a question about another question with a denial about "Pam Falk"? Pam Falk is Pamela Falk of CBS News, outgoing head of the UN Correspondents Association, whose past, present and future First Vice President indicated on December 16 that Falk is responsible for blocking Inner City Press from UNCA's near moribund Twitter accounts.

 (On December 23, he conveyed, and we publish, "Pam says she is not the person who uses UNCA account." But as noted above, earlier in 2014, the UNCA account and Falk's own account zoomed up, seemingly with bought followers, at exactly the same time. And once outed, when Falk said it was somehow the result of being hacked, both accounts went back down at the same time. So how doesn't she run it? And if not her, who does run it? The entire 15 member Executive Committee? We'll have more on this).

  A world in which that (and this sample audio) is consistent with freedom of the press, but the above must be emphasized, is too complex by half. There's more to say, but as noted, we publish it near-immediately.

    On December 17 after Ban thanked some of those in the UN Press Briefing Room for inviting and celebrating him at a black-tie ball the previous night, the first question was set aside for the group that celebrated him, the UN Correspondents Association. Video here.

Outgoing UNCA president Pamela Falk asked Ban about Cuba, “since you've visit,” and Ban said he had been told in advance. While he added, by the US, he glanced down and read out a statement. Of course, Ban Ki-moon has no responsibility for or power over US policy on Cuba. Video here.

Ban was asked a soft question about the US torture report -- but NOT whether he thinks anyone should be prosecuted. Ban was asked a question about Ebola and another about the transatlantic slave trade from Africa.

  In response to the latter question, Ban read the entirety of his answer from a script. Video here.

Yes, it was in French. But if he's getting the questions in advance on this, why not others? And as another journalist in the room, not Inner City Press, said afterward, maybe he wasn't called on because he hasn't been willing to give his question in advance.

 It is not academic: the way Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric ran the December 17 press conference, no questions were taken on allegations that the UN covered up mass rapes in Darfur, and video that UN Peacekeepers shot democracy protesters in Haiti.

The Free UN Coalition for Access, formed because Ban's UNCA far from defending journalists tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, believes that questions should not be requested or given in advance of press conferences. We'll have more on this. Watch this site.


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