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At UNCA, of Lyall Grant & Rice, Sri Lanka & Expulsion Links, Schwarzenegger Prized

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 19 -- As Ambassador Susan Rice entered Cipriani's on 42nd Street Wednesday night, Cipriani's security told a couple also trying to enter to wait, "Susan Rice is going in."

  "Are you joking?" retorted UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant. As he went in, the Cipriani's security guard said, "You don't have to touch me."  Inner City Press video here. Embedded below.

   Inside, the UN Correspondents Association was holding a $250 a plate dinner and giving an award to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

   Inner City Press, which in full disclosure has been questioning UNCA since it screened in the UN a Sri Lanka government film denying war crimes, treated this UNCA Ball as a news event, standing in front of Cipriani's and asking questions.

To a question about Arnold Schwartzenegger as a UN role model, is it appropriate, many entrants laughed and asked to go off the record. The majority then said No, it is not appropriate.

  German Permanent Representative Peter Wittig, who to his credit did not ask to go off the record, said diplomatically "I don't know him well enough."

  Another Security Council Permanent Representative was more emphatic, saying, "No, it's totally inappropriate, UNCA is a joke, come inside and I'll tell you more over a scotch."

   But Inner City Press did not accompany him in. After Inner City Press reported on the Sri Lanka propaganda film, and that Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona had in the past paid rent for a luxury apartment to UNCA's president, a process began to try to expel Inner City Press from UNCA, to whose Executive Committee Inner City Press had been elected.

   Then on June 20, 2012, after UNCA Executive Committee member Margaret Besheer told her employer (and US government agency) Voice of America that her colleagues from Reuters and Agence France-Presse supported her, VOA asked the UN to "review the accreditation" of Inner City Press. Click here to view VOA's letter to the UN.

   After Inner City Press obtained related documents under the US Freedom of Information Law, these three and other UNCA executive committee members did not respond to requests to explain or comment on the documents.

 (Nor have they answered two requests to know the agenda of their December 21 general meeting, or what they propose to vote on, even as they purported to remain in office past the December 31 expiration specified in the UNCA Constitution.)

   So is their UNCA a freedom of the press organization? Why did they choose Arnold Schwarzenegger to receive their award? Why did they award prizes to their own Executive Committee members, two of whose media organizations have purchased full page advertisements in the UNCA Ball publication?

   These questions were not answered. Outside, a habitue recounted how at the previous night's Cipriani event, for the Humane Society featuring Mike Bloomberg, a woman incongruously walked in wearing a fur coat. The crowd stopped talking; she left.

   Meanwhile Sri Lanka's Ambassador Palitha Kohona went in to the UNCA Ball -- without answering Inner City Press' question.

  If his deputy General Shavendra Silva of the Sri Lankan Army, depicted in the UN's own report engaged in war crimes, showed up, wouldn't it be similar to the lady in the fur coat? Except there would be no reaction. This is UNCA.

   Press freedom must and will be better defended at the UN in 2013.

  At a press conference earlier on Wednesday, Inner City Press on behalf of the newly launched Free UN Coalition for Access -- yes, FUNCA -- asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to ensure that his Under Secretaries General hold press conferences and answer questions without discrimination or censorship.

  This was a reference to USG Herve Ladsous of UN Peacekeeping, who has repeatedly refused to answer Press questions, about Silva, cholera in Haiti and most recently the Congolese Army rapes in Minova.

  Inner City Press' reporting on Ladsous gave rise to a process within UNCA, initiated by Tim Witcher of Agence France-Presse (on one of whose boards Ladsous once served, in another conflict of interest), to censure Inner City Press.

  On Wednesday night, Inner City Press did not witness Ladsous entering the UNCA Ball, but his spokesman Kieran Dwyer did go in. Shouldn't this be seen like the lady in the fur coat going into the Humane Society ball?

   But this is 2012's UNCA -- those engaged not only in war crimes but also censorship are invited and celebrated. But did they pay $250 for their tickets?

   Ban Ki-moon himself graciously invited Inner City Press to enter. In truth, it was cold outside. But it was from there that Inner City Press watched the spoof "BanFall" film produced by CNN's Richard Roth.

  And yes, not left on the cutting room floor but broadcast was a segment in which Inner City Press says "UNCA, you'll never take me alive," on the roof of the very same Dag Hammarskjold Library where UNCA screened the Sri Lanka war crimes denial film, with commentary from only Kohona and Shavendra Silva.

   It is full circle, and it is enough. 2013 will be different. Watch this site.

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