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As Sri Lanka Gloats of Jail for Press, Cites UNCA, Attacks Increase

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 4 -- In covering the UN, Inner City Press speaks with nearly everyone here, from the UN Security officers sold out by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after they were beaten by Turkish president Erdogan's guards, through diplomats up to, though less and less frequently, Ban himself.

  But some in the UN refuse to respond to Inner City Press. These include top UN Peacekeeper Herve Ladsous, his adviser Sri Lankan general (and alleged war criminal) Shavendra Silva, and a dozen members of the UN Correspondents Association Executive Committee. There are not unconnected.

  Following a witch hunt against Inner City Press for reporting on a past financial relationship between Sri Lankan Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona and UNCA President Giampaolo Pioli (click here for more nuance) and on the last minute selection of second choice Herve Ladsous, the UN Executive Committee on May 29 mass e-mailed out a letter vaguely charging Inner City Press with harassment.

  The letter, signed by signed by Reuters' Louis Charbonneau, Flavia Krause-Jackson of Bloomberg, Talal Al-Haj of Al-Arabia, Margaret Besheer of Voice of America and Timothy Witcher of Agence France Presse, was to set up a "Board of Examination" to "investigate" Inner City Press with an eye to expelling it.

  But on June 3, a major government aligned newspaper in Sri Lanka, the Sunday Observer, quoted with approval the UNCA Executive Committee indictment of Inner City Press.

  The newspaper concluded that that "if the allegations against Lee are proven, the UN headquarters will be made out of bounds for him. If the harassment charges are proven he could face a jail term of up to six years."

 It also reports, citing "authoritative diplomatic sources," that

"The United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) has initiated an inquiry against Inner City Press correspondent Matthew Russell Lee who was operating from the UN Headquarters on his unethical and unprofessional behaviour, authoritative diplomatic sources told the Sunday Observer yesterday. The Executive Committee of the UNCA met on May 29 to discuss his conduct following many complaints received by the Association and voted 13 to one in favour of setting up a five-member board of examination.

Lee's unethical coverage in the Inner City Press dominated issues and sensitive affairs concerning Sri Lanka as well.

The meeting was attended by the President of UNCA Giampiolo Pioli and the Vice Presidents among others. In a letter requesting an inquiry against Lee, five executive committee members wrote to the UNCA President, 'We feel it’s time to consider whether he truly belongs to an organisation of journalists committed to professionalism, ethics and covering the United Nations.' The complaints against him include harassment of media colleagues at the UN.

The members of the examination board will be decided on by June 1 and work will begin thereafter. The examination board will have to report back to the Executive Committee within 10 days.

The sources said if the allegations against Lee are proven, the UN headquarters will be made out of bounds for him. If the harassment charges are proven he could face a jail term of up to six years."

  Who might those "authoritative diplomatic sources" be? Who is this UNCA Executive Committee serving? The article is online at

  After publication of the article, Inner City Press wrote to each member of the UNCA Executive Committee with a copy of the article, formally asking them to disassociate themselves from and bring about the immediate cessation of this anti press freedom climate that has led to this article.

  None responded to this request in writing; only one gave so much as a phone call.

  Member Talal Al-Haj of Al-Arabiya, twenty hours after being shown the above article, responded by sending another mass e-mail against Inner City Press. One wag advises Al-Haj: just send it directly to Shavendra Silva and Kohona next time, save the other journalists' time.

  Meanwhile as should have been or perhaps was foreseen by UNCA Executive Committee members, the anti Press flow is increasing. We'll have more on all this - 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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