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Google, Asked at UN About Censorship, Moved to Censor the Questioner, Sources Say, Blaming UN - Update - Editorial

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Witchhunt among UN Correspondents, As Reuters Steals Scoop, Kafka on May 29?

By Matthew Russell Lee, Media critique

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- With Yemen on the agenda of the UN Security Council for Tuesday May 29, in a parallel universe the UN Correspondents Association's board has another issue in mind: barring Inner City Press, and perhaps all investigative bloggers, from its ranks.

   On May 23, after Reuters stole without credit Inner City Press' March 28 exclusive story that US official Jeffrey Feltman would replace Lynn Pascoe as the head of the UN Department of Political Affairs, the UNCA Executive Committee was asked for the third time to adopt a simple statement encouraging UNCA members "to seek to give credit when using a report that was exclusively reported by another media."

  The members were shown for example that Foreign Policy's The Cable ran a follow-up story giving credit to Inner City Press, unlike Reuters. Shouldn't "colleagues" in the UN press corps show each other as much respect as strangers?

   But the proposed statement was flatly rejected, including by Louis Charbonneau of Reuters who said he has a POLICY of not crediting Inner City Press exclusives.

   Since it was and is unclear if this is a Reuters or only Charbonneau policy, implemented throughout the wire service as to UN stories since he is their correspondent here, Inner City Press asked the other two reporters and editors listed on the pilfered story. But there has been no response.

   Instead, Inner City Press learned that Charbonneau sought to have Inner City Press ejected from the UN, by filing a complaint with the head of the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, and with 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 has in this context been put online here.

   At the May 25 UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky about due process rights of UN correspondents with respect to complaints filed against them by competitors. 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 and Liason 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." Four hours later, Inner City Press received an UNCA notice of a "board of examination," seemingly, a Franz Kafka-like kangaroo court, see below.

  Charbonneau sent copies of his e-mail to, among others, Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse. who is on the UNCA Executive Board but is not an officer. Why Witcher was cc-ed may be unclear. 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.

   Charbonneau can be viewed as a proxy for Witcher and thus behind him for the French mission. It is an abuse of power, and one that Inner City Press does not accept it cannot report on. So:

On May 25 Inner City Press receive the following "notice" from UNCA President Giampaolo Pioli:

"I recived a request from 5 members of UNCA executive committee to urgently appoint a <board of examination> to look into a list of complaints <about Matthew Lee's harassment of colleagues>. The Unca Executive committee will meet Tuesday may 29 at 4pm or at 5pm in the Unca club."

   Inner City Press was not informed of the identities of the "five members of the UNCA executive committee" who view as so urgent the right to steal exclusives and to silence those who complain - but here's the online list of Executive Committee members.

   Back on April 10, a warning shot was issued when Charbonneau e-mailed some UNCA Executive Board members but not Inner City Press, seeking to hold a meeting to throw Inner City Press off the Board. He said they had six issues, mostly about the Missions to the UN of France and Sri Lanka. (The "right" to steal exclusives would come later.)

  Three times since last September the UNCA Executive Board has pushed Inner City Press to censor its articles. These articles involved as noted exposing the French mission as not even knowing which French official would get the top Peacekeeping job, and reporting that UNCA President Pioli, took money from the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka before agreeing, without consulting with other board members such as Inner City Press, to screen in the UN the Sri Lankan government's rebuttal to the genocide film Killing Fields, which was NOT screened in the UN.

 (Pioli argues that the payment of rent was long in the past; we add that here in fairness.)

  After Inner City Press reported on that, Pioli screamed over the phone that he would have Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. And now the attempt is on, with expulsion from UNCA as the first step, according to another UNCA board member.

  Since Pioli's hands may be viewed as dirty -- quite literally in light of the second Killing Fields film -- or tired, the lead has been taken by his deputy, Reuters' Lou Charbonneau. While increasingly rarely seen at the Security Council stakeout since he is handed stories and drafts on a platter by the UK, French and sometimes US missions, Charbonneau has as one wag put it become the power behind the flaccid UNCA throne.

  But he seems to have lost any free press sensibility. At a recent UNCA meeting to which Inner City Press was summoned, when another member who like Pioli was sent a copy of Charbonneau's complaint to MALU admonished Inner City Press to "write more positive stories about the UN" or apparently face expulsion, Charbonneau said nothing.

  From this and Pioli's open giving of gifts not only to departing UN officials but also those entering, one might surmise that UNCA is actually working for Ban Ki-moon.

  But most of its Executive Committee members' motive are more mundane: to ensure for their media organizations the larger and more private office spaces, and otherwise serve themselves. Now, to be able to steal exclusive then try to silence the robbed media which complains.

   Charbonneau, for example, recently sent a written complaint demanding more access for Reuters, AP and other wires, ostensibly in the name of UNCA but without even checking with Executive Committee members.

   Many in these wires sit in their offices monitoring other journalists' questions, then taking the answers as their own, even regarding stories on which the others have exclusives.

 These are routinely stolen without credit, as for example Inner City Press' exclusive report 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 above 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?

   Charbonneau adopted another tactic, or pretext: Inner City Press' publication of a publicly available, online photograph of the French Mission's Permanent Representative Gerard Araud with another tuxedoed man somehow created a "hostile environment" for another UN correspondents and UNCA executive committee member.

  Inner City Press countered that this was censorship, but agreed to take down the photo. "Don't post any explanation why," Pioli said. And seeking to ensure no more hostility, Inner City Press dropped from its Tweets the ostensibly offended party -- only to later be told this was another offense.

  A week later, after the UN's own Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit cited UNCA in support of the proposition that the Press could not cover the meeting of Ban Ki-moon's Senior Advisory Group on Peacekeeping to see if alleged war criminal Shavendra Silva remained in attendance after Ban Ki-moon was silent, Inner City Press included its rebuttal of this position, and UNCA, in an April 6 story.

    And so leading up to his complaint to MALU, on April Charbonneau sent e-mails to other UNCA executive board members, but not Inner City Press and another vibrant supportive -- but now resigned -- member, suggesting that Inner City Press should be ousted from the board. In the UNCA Constitution, there is only a provision for ouster from UNCA, after among other things a General Membership meeting.

The first step is a "board of examination," now set for May 29.

It was suggested to Inner City Press, at the meeting on the photo, again on April 13 and then by an intermediary, that it simply resign from the UNCA board. But why? The organization is supposed to fight for the rights of UN correspondents, for more rather than less access to the news, and for freedom of the press. And many on the current group are not engaged in their fight -- quite the opposite.

  The intermediary acknowledged that the complaint about the photo had come from the French Mission to the UN, which has been seeking to silence Inner City Press since at least a year ago, when along with its expose of France's misuse of UN Peacekeeping in Cote d'Ivoire Inner City Press also published an investigative piece about a French diplomat, Romain Serman, who was arrested for attempted purchase of cocaine and resisting arrest. Serman and the French Mission invoked diplomatic immunity and Serman was allowed to leave the country rather than face prosecution. But then he quietly re-entered the US, where is in the French consul in San Francisco.

   The French spokesman at the time, Stephane Crouzat, accompanied and since succeeded by Brieuc Pont, demanded that Inner City Press take down the story, much as UNCA has since demanded that Inner City Press take down the photograph, not write about French Mission briefings or about the UNCA president having taken money from the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka then agreed to show in the UN, without consulting other Executive Committee members at least not Inner City Press, the Sri Lankan government's rebuttal of a film accusing it of genocide.

  When a supposed journalists association veers into censorship, the time has come to fight.

The basis of the fight is as follows: rather than defend or promote the ability to report on the UN, these individuals have sought to undermine it, often at the request of or even after the payment by particular countries' mission to the UN. Now some seek to use it as a club to steal stories. So it will be fought. 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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