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UNCA & VOA Said They Imposed Conditions on Free Press with Reuters & AFP Help, FOIA Shows

By Matthew Russell Lee

WASHINGTON, January 10 -- The final nail in the coffin of the UN Correspondents Association and its argument that its move to expel Inner City Press and get it dis-accredited from the UN was not about censorship or the content of its coverage is revealed by internal Voice of America documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act. New documents listed below.

  While the UNCA Executive Board was meeting daily demanding that Inner City Press take articles off the Interest, VOA's Margaret Besheer wrote to her bosses in Washington and described the "charges" against Inner City Press.

  All involved written content, ranging from UNCA conflict of interests involving Sri Lanka to coverage of the French Mission to the UN and French head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous.

  As previously reported, Besheer told her bosses that Reuters and Agence France-Presse, on one whose boards Ladsous served, both supported the move to get Inner City Press dis-accredited from the UN.

  A stealth complaint against Inner City Press by Louis Charbonneau of Reuters was fastened on by VOA as supporting its position.

   On June 20, VOA's Steve Redisch wrote to the UN's Stephane Dujarric asking that Inner City Press accreditation status at the UN be reviewed.

   Dujarric wrote back "thanks," and said he would call Redisch. Besheer wrote to Redisch and others in Washington, "thanks." Click here for that, published for the first time here.

This however was the turning point, new documents show.

  As recounted in e-mails from Besheer to her bosses in Washington, Inner City Press asking about the attempt to dis-accredit it at the June 21 UN noon briefing was a problem (along with publishing Redisch's request). Click here for that, published for the first time here.

  Later on June 21, the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees VOA was fielding requests from Congress about this attempt to get an investigative journalist thrown out of the UN.

  Inner City Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which UNCA's president, now outgoing, and past and apparently future First Vice President Lou Charbonneau told Inner City Press to withdraw the FOIA request.

   But Inner City Press does not withdraw FOIA requests. To the contrary: Inner City Press is a media amicus in this just filed brief in McBurney v. Young, No. 12-17 of the US Supreme Court.

By June 25, BBG officials were hoping for "no more surprises."  Click here for that, published for the first time here.

  By June 27, five Governors on the Broadcasting Board of Governors were asking for information and records, including those Inner City Press had requested under FOIA.

 One of the Governors started pushing for an open BBG meeting on the subject. Click here for that, published for the first time here.

   BBG's lawyers argued that it was somehow a "personnel matter," although Inner City Press did not and would not work for VOA.

  BBG's David Ensor wrote to the Governors and then Congress (but never Inner City Press or the UN) admitting that the request to get the UN to dis-accredit Inner City Press "was not appropriate."

  In preparing his late July spin, David Ensor wrote "the quote from Reuters will definitely help!" There's more, but for now this is enough.

  Ensor told the BBG Governors that Inner City Press had "been given a warning -- both verbal and in writing -- about his behavior when on UN premises." Redisch wrote that conditions had been imposed on Inner City Press using "UN rules regarding boundaries of coverage."

   No censorship? Hardly. And not only Voice of America, but the UNCA Executive Committee, particularly but not only Reuters' Lou Charbonneau and AFP's Tim Witcher, were instrumental to this censorship campaign.

   UNCA crossed a Rubicon of censorship. something is sick within UNCA, and its fixed election, ending today, will not fix it.

  The response of Inner City Press has been to launch a new and needed organization actually fighting for media rights with regard to the UN: the Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA. Its fliers have been defaced and torn down but there will be no stopping it. Watch this site.

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