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As NGOs Urge Transparent UNSG Selection, UN Censorship Alliance Is Worse

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 5 -- When Ban Ki-moon was selected as UN Secretary General in 2006 it was an untransparent process, with secret ballots in the Security Council.

  The Permanent Five members used a different color, but their vetoes were not even attributable to them. In this way, the least controversial -- or most servile -- candidate emerged.

Now a group of civil society organizations have written a letter to the UN member states in the General Assembly, urging that the process to replace Ban in 2016 be more transparent, be at least to some degree based on merit.

 The signatories include Avaaz, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, Equality Now, FEMNET, Forum-Asia, Global Policy Forum, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Social Watch, Third World Network, Women’s Environment and Development Organization, the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy and the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

While the new Free UN Coalition for Access, formed in response to the decline in media access and transparency generally under Ban Ki-moon, heartily agrees with the need to reform and improve the Secretary General selection process.

 Candidates so far including Helen Clark of UNDP, who virtually never takes press questions while in New York, the headquarters of UNDP, amid untransparent layoffs, and director general of UNESCO, an agency which this week led an event about journalists at which not a single question from a journalist was taken.

  One reason for the decline in transparency at the UN in recent years is the transformation of the in-house “UN Correspondents Association” into a servile appendage of Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat. UNCA's executive committee held a supposedly “on the record” lunch with Ban Ki-moon but refused to provide the transcript or audio file even to its own members afterward.

Tellingly, after September's General Assembly debate week, UNCA's “complaints” to Ban's Secretariat are to ask for fewer events, for a private wi-fi network for in-house UN journalist and not those who cover to cover the week, and a booklet co-signed with Ban.

Meanwhile, UNCA makes no mention of restrictions of access that week such as the French mission ordering all non-French journalists out of the UN's Press Briefing Room, and UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous physically blocking the Press' camera, Vine here.

  The new Free UN Coalition for Access has raised these issues, publicly, in fliers and in the UN's Press Briefing Room. Tellingly, the UN Secretariat appears ready to limit its "interlocutors" on media access to the very insiders at UNCA who have overseen and promoted the decline in access. It's the UN Censorship Alliance.

  Now things at set to get even worse at UNCA, as annointed to return to head the group is Giampaolo Pioli, who mis-used his previous presidency to order the removal from the Internet of an Inner City Press article reporting that he had rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative, then screened a Sri Lankan government film denying war crimes in the UN's Dag Hammerskjold Library Auditorium, under the UNCA banner, without checking with or informing even UNCA's Executive Board members.

  When his censorship attempt was rebuffed, Pioli said he would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Such a letter went in to UN Media Accreditation, from UNCA's then board member at Voice of America.

 A subsequent Freedom of Information Act request -- VOA is US state media -- found that UNCA had met “quietly” with the UN about it, and said AFP and Reuters supported it. (Reuters later got Google to ban one of its complaints to the UN from Google's Search, mis-using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, here.)

  An analogy that some have now made: it's one thing that Kurt Waldheim was UN Secretary General once. But what would it say about the UN if he were to return, after a haitus, for more time atop the organization?

  And while even the process that picked Ban had multiple candidates, in the UNCA process there is rarely any competition. In this case, outgoing UNCA president Pamela Falk, under whose figurehead tenure media access declined, has explicitly endorsed the return of Pioli as her successor. This is decay.

  Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, is appearing in polls as running for president of his native South Korea in 2017. Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson about it, who said Ban is “currently” focused on his current job. This has been repeated in South Korea, here. The UN is being used; the UN is in further decline; there are moves afoot to stem the tide of decay. Watch this site.


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