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UN Debate Sinks to Hair Insults, But UNCA's Joke May Be on Ban Ki-moon

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 19 -- The UN, particularly because of its inaction for example in Rwanda, Srebrenica and then Sri Lanka, is sometimes called the world's greatest debating society.

   But the UN's chosen (for now) interlocutor on press issues, the UN Correspondents Association, can't seem to debate at all.

   After a year in which the UNCA Executive Committee led by the bureau chiefs of Voice of America, Reuters (Louis Charbonneau, still First Vice President of UNCA) and Agence France-Presse (Tim Witcher, still on UNCA's Executive Committee) tried to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN, a new organization has been launched: the Free UN Coalition for Access.

  FUNCA has pressed issues of access to information, equitable treatment and accreditation of journalists with the UN Department of Public Information, most recently in a January 17 meeting after which FUNCA posted a flier summarizing the non-controversial portions of DPI's answers.

   The response of UNCA to the flier? To cover it up with a counterfeit flier, and one attempting humor about hair styles, saying that Inner City Press "has challenged those big hair stylists subsidized by the government-funded scissor makers."

   The reference is apparently to the fact that many of UNCA's Executive Committee are from state media, or are closely affiliated with individual member states.

   UNCA's flier concludes, "Sign here if you want to see Big Hair cut to size."

   Is this the best UNCA can do, to post anonymous threats in insulting fliers about hair style? Last time, UNCA defaced the fliers by scrawling "Looney Club" and "Dirty Shirt Club" -- because in this view what is important in being a journalist, as in being a waiter, is who has the cleanest shirt.

   In that vein, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has private lunches with the UNCA Executive Committee, doling out quotes and information that they then re-serve to their audience.

  Is it appropriate? Especially after it has been exposed, through the Freedom of Information Act, that recently "UNCA met with the UN (very quietly)" to try to get the Press thrown out of the UN?

  Is this Ban Ki-moon's understanding of freedom of the press? We'll have more on this.

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