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Unimpressed by UN Press, As Regime Handpicks Successors, Arab Spring in Winter

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 23 -- One question raised by the Arab Spring is whether a dictatorship has ended if the regime gets to handpick its successors while calling it reform or even, new blood.

   While what will happen in Syria remains to be seen, along with the UN's role, at the UN itself on Friday there was a microcosm seen.

  From 4 to 5 pm in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, the UN Correspondents Association executive committee called a vote to override the UNCA Constitution, ostensibly legitimating not holding elections as required by December 15.

   They extended their terms into January, while saying they would not meet or take any action other than run the postponed election.

   They have said that this postponement is to attract "new blood" into the UNCA leadership after a year that saw attempts at censorship and dis-accreditation, a decrease in meetings, briefings and advocacy, culminating in a loss of over 40% of the press corps' space in the UN.

   Immediately after the abruptly curtailed meeting, the executive committee unlocked their glassed-in announcement board and posted their candidates for each of the top six positions, complete with endorsements by the two outgoing officials.

   The speed with which the nomination board was opened, filled and then locked again was witnessed by Inner City Press as it covered UN budget negotiations in an otherwise empty press area.

  This floor of cubicles was a reduction, presented as temporarily, to what had long been the media's space at the UN. Now there is further reduction, further atrophy and decay.

   There is only one candidate for each position -- North Korea style. Four of them would hold the same positions as in 2012. In UN-ese, this is ironically called a "clean" slate election, one with no opposition.

   The outgoing treasurer, who got her employer Voice of America to ask the UN to dis-accredit the Press saying she had the support of her colleagues from Reuters and Agence France-Presse, has given her endorsement to a successor treasurer, who served as an executive committee member "at large" in 2012.

   (The representative of a Voice of America affiliate has declared for an "at large" post, along with an examiner who refused to answer questions about what work he did for the Committee: this is what's called new blood.)

   The "colleague from Reuters," previously viewed as president in waiting, has decided to remain slightly behind the throne as first vice president.

   The outgoing president he advised has endorsed a successor, whose views of the year of censorship and documented dis-accreditation attempts are not yet known. In Yemen, Saleh-nominee Hadi has incrementally broken from the past. But this is the UN -- so we'll see. Watch this site.

Footnote: Launched on December 7, the Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, has begun advocating not only on media space but more importantly, impartial accreditation, fair treatment and freedom of information. More to come on each of these issues and more: watch this site.

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Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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