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In Soccer Symbiosis, UNCA Provides Photo-Ops for Ban, UNaccountable

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- Is it the function of journalists ostensibly covering an institution to provide photo-ops for the head of the institution?

  That's what's happening at the UN, where a group called the UN Correspondents Association promoted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's appearance at their soccer game with ambassadors they also purport to cover. 

  While Ban did a mere ceremonial kick-off, UNCA pushed out pictures of it -- as it props up that they are close to the UN -- and predictably the UN's own UN News Centre and UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric and even the UN's main twitter account did the same.

And on July 3, France 24 showed footage, even after Dujarric continued dodging on the UN flying around the leader of the sanctioned FDLR militia

  Is this appropriate? Particularly when Ban has reneged on previous commitments to hold monthly on the record press conference, replacing these with “press encounters” of which the press is not told until afterward, and even interviews with LinkedIn - is this appropriate?

  It is symbiosis: the scribes want to be seen as having access, and in this case the group UNCA which has a documented (by FOIA) history of trying to get investigative media thrown out of the UN, doing nothing when the News Agency of Nigeria was evicted from the UN due to a lack of space when the UN gives UNCA a big room that sits empty and dark most days -- UNCA is grateful to be promoted by Ban's spokesman. But why is he doing it?

  The UN's Office of the Spokesperson these days even more than before won't give straight answers, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Darfur to South Sudan, while increasingly on the margins of issues like Iraq and Ukraine, it's now a time for bread and circuses.

  Or rather for softball soccer between UN-based officials and those who are ostensibly supposed to hold them accountable.

  On July 2, moments after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Stephane Dujarric had refused to explain his inaccurate or misleading answer to a Press question about the UN flying a sanctioned FDLR militia leader around the Democratic Republic of Congo on June 27 (Inner City Press video here), he was invited to play soccer or football with a group of some reporters. UN Video here, Minute 16:22.

  This group, the old UN Correspondents Association, in 2012 demanded the censorship of Inner City Press reporting on its screening in the UN of Sri Lanka's goverment film denying war crimes, which noted that UNCA's President had previously had a financial relationship with Sri Lanka's Ambassador.

  And there at the game, which the UN's own Twitter account promoted along with its handpicked scribes, the former UNCA president was in his UNCA jersey. To whom is he renting now?

  UNCA itself promoted without irony or comment the participation of "Egypt Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil" -- which push came to shove, or push-over, there was no mention of #FreeAJstaff. Here was Ban with Egypt's Permanent Representative, here.

  Now on July 3, an UNCA board member from Reuters tries to re-purpose the promotional photograph as.... Journalism is not a crime. A day late - and this is the same Reuters which has via a bogus Digital Millennium Copyright Act filing gotten Google to ban from its Search a copy of Reuters "for the record" complaint trying to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. The DMCA filing is here, via the Electronic Frontier Foundation's; the (now half censored) underlying filing with Dujarric is here.

  After similarly trying to get removed from the Internet factual coverage of the UNCA president's diplomatic rental income, the UNCA Executive Committee not only tried including through Dujarric to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN -- they also refused to implement any reforms or best practices in its relationships those it is ostensibly covering. Financial relationships? No problem, apparently.

  Nor has UNCA adopted any rule that it will not seek to censor or get journalists thrown out of the UN - it continues as the UN's Censorship Alliance.

   So Inner City Press quit UNCA, to whose Executive Committee it had been elected, and it co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access, which is for example pushing for, wonder of wonders, accurate answers in the UN Press Briefing Room by the UN Spokesperson.

  Typically, when on April 15 outgoing French Ambassador Gerard Araud right in the Briefing Room told a Lebanese reporter, who had paid dues to UNCA, that "you are not a journalist, you are an agent," UNCA dragged its feet.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access formally asked Dujarric to convey to Araud and the French mission the stated position, that accredited journalists should be treated with respect. But Dujarric declined.

  This is the context of the (softball) soccer game that UNCA President Pamela Falk promoted, including with photographs of a jersey branded “UNCA” just as she (and Dujarric) try to brand each UN press conference with the name “UNCA.”

  And the UN's main Twitter account promoted UNCA, just as Ban's UN gives a large room which sits empty and dark most days, even as the UN evicted the News Agency of Nigeria claiming it needed space. Other journalists working at the UN have no workspace. But UNCA's big wigs need space to practice - to flop?

  They said a ceremonial kick-off would be performed by Ban Ki-moon, who hasn't held a press conference in New York in months, instead faux "press encounters" and now an interview, on LinkedIN.  And it was, after Ban Ki-moon left an event on the death penalty, which on his first day he said is a matter for each member state. They whispered that Ban's senior adviser Kim Won-soo would play on the “Ambassadors” team - and he did.

  Some ambassadors were told this confab is of all journalists covering the UN -- it is not. Several Permanent Representatives asked Inner City Press if it or FUNCA would participate -- the answer is no -- and some more questioned the appropriateness of the marketing, including by the UN, and of UNCA's direction generally. So it goes - for now: softballs with censors. Watch this site.


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