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Of Complaint by Reuters, Which Stole Feltman Scoop, UN Claims Rules, Offline

By Matthew Russell Lee, Media Critique

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- Four days after Reuters stole an exclusive report by Inner City Press that US official Jeffrey Feltman would replace Lynn Pascoe as the head of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Department of Political Affairs, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky about due process rights in the face of a spurious complaint by Reuters' UN reporter Louis Charbonneau. See Charbonneau's complaint to the UN's Media Accreditation & Liaison Unit, here.

   Nesirky replied that this should be "dealt with off camera."

   Inner City Press followed up asking if journalists at the UN have the right to see such complaints or files maintained about them by Ban's Media Accreditation Unit.

  Nesirky responded that there are "rules and procedures," but wouldn't say what these rules are. For the record, Nesirky proudly lists that he used to work for Reuters. He said he was "fully aware" of the situation and that "we'll deal with it separately." Who's this "we"?

   The insider corporate media connections are extensive, and might be said to allow conflicts of interest. Last week, Ban's UN demanded that Inner City Press remove UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous' name from an article which quoted Ambassadors at the UN that he would visit Damascus.

  Nesirky claimed that censorship was appropriate because Inner City Press had put Ladsous at risk.

  Now in the last 18 hours the Reuters news agency, at which not only Nesirky but also Syria envoy Kofi Annan Ahmad Fawzi proudly say they used to work, quoted under Charbonneau's shifty byline certain unnamed "UN envoys" that  Annan himself, certainly a higher profile target than the uncommunicative Ladsous, would be going to Syria on May 27.

  Rather than request for censorship to Reuters, hours later Fawzi told the agency, his former employer, that "Annan will visit Syria 'soon.'" That two paragraph piece, datelined Geneva, had "reporting" by Louis Charbonneau. Nothing has been said of the previous report naming May 27 as causing danger or needing to be censored.

  Instead, Charbonneau asked Nesirky on camera about the quote he'd gotten from Fawzi in Geneva. The circle was slightly broken: Nesirky insisted that Ban had been the first to announce the trip, in an appearance (on a tall stool) on CNN.

   Inner City Press' scoop about Feltman was published back on  March 28. (Foreign Policy's The Cable ran a follow-up story giving credit to Inner City Press, unlike Reuters).

   Thereafter, Charbonneau wrote to the head of the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, and to her supervisor the former spokesman of Kofi Annan, claiming that Inner City Press' reporter is "making it very hard for me and others in the UN press to do our jobs."  Reuters' Charbonneau's e-mail is in this context being put online here.

  Charbonneau sent copies of his e-mail to, among others, Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse. Witcher, at the behest of the French Mission to the UN, had earlier sought to have Inner City Press disciplined for revealing that the French Mission was so out of touch with Paris that it didn't know that then-President Nicolas Sarkozy would switch Herve "The Drone" Ladsous for Jerome Bonnafont as the French head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

  Hard to do their jobs, indeed. Another reason the UN should at a minimum let journalists see filed and maintained complaints is that they can be filed by competitors or those who don't like coverage.

  In the "incident" Charbonneau mentions in his e-mail, Inner City Press had just been informed by another correspondent that Charbonneau had bypassed Inner City Press on communications which should have been sent to Inner City Press, with the goal of getting Inner City Press ejected. (Inner City Press is still choosing not to divulge more due to a rule, largely pushed by Charbonneau, that all proceeding be confidential. Suffice it for now to say that beyond seeking to serve himself and Reuters by complaining to the UN, Charbonneau was abusing power and position.)

   So disgust was and is expressed, but no violence or even the threat of it. Charbonneau tried to use this word "disgust" -- accurate, as it turns out -- to get the UN to eject Inner City Press.

  But since when is expressing disgust to a correspondent who steals stories and sneaks around the basis for a stealth complaint to the UN Media Accredition & Liaison Unit? What are the rules?

  On May 21 after seeing Charbonneau listed on the Reuters article which stole the Feltman scoop, Inner City Press sent him an e-mail with the full text of the initial and exclusive March 28 report. Charbonneau did not and has not responded to the e-mail.

  Inner City Press then sought to post a comment on the story on the website. While other non-substantive comments were allowed by Reuters, this one was not.

  So Inner City Press for two days sought to reach Reuters editors or officials. The links to the two editors on the triple-bylined story led only to their "blogs." (The three bylined reporters were "Arshad Mohammed, Warren Strobel and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Vicki Allen and Eric Beech.)

  Reuters' "Director of Global Communications" Barb Burg was reachable only through a secretary, Alexis who on May 23 finally said to e-mail the two of the above. One was "out of the office;" the other still has yet to respond, even after a follow up message on May 24.

  It should be noted that other exclusives have been stolen at the UN. Earlier this year Inner City Press reported that 14 kilograms of cocaine were found in the UN mail room and covered up.

  After writing the story, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about it at the next noon briefing. He had no answer, but later in the day organized a 6 pm stakeout by UN Security chief Gregory Starr to "rebut" the charges.

The UN correspondents of Reuters, Bloomberg (changing 14 kilos to "35 pounds"), AFP (changing to "35.5 pounds") Agence France Presse (whose Tim Witcher as noted was previously used to harass Inner City Press by the French Mission to the UN, after Inner City Press published an expose on France's use of the UN in Cote d'Ivoire, and the last minute switch from Jerome Bonnafont to Herve "The Drone" Ladsous for DPKO), Mexican media and others showed up, many complaining, then wrote stories which other than the Mexican media gave no credit to Inner City Press' underlying exclusive.

  The defense has been that once a press availability is scheduled, even if clear in response to anther media's exclusive, no credit need be given. Is this journalism?

  Or a club of corporate insiders who will stoop so low as to try to get Ban Ki-moon's UN to eject a reporter who "makes it hard" for them to do their jobs -- and whose exclusives they steal? Watch this site.

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Click here for Sept 23, '11 about UN General Assembly

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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

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