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After Censorship, UNCA Turn Out Down 14%, Reuters VP Down 30%, Delay Opposed by FUNCA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 11 -- The decay of the UN Correspondents Association has been confirmed in the low turn out of in the organization's largely fixed elections, held January 8-10.

   Despite UNCA's claim to have 200-some members, even last year only 102 people cast ballots.

   But this time, after a year in which the UNCA Executive Committee spent most of its meetings trying to expel then dis-accredit Inner City Press, turn-out fell 14%, to a mere 88 votes cast.

   This decline took place despite the UNCA Executive Committee violating the UNCA Constitution by pushing the election past the December 15 deadline and into January, allegedly to get more candidates and more turn-out. Video here.

    In a tell-tale sign of UNCA's decay, there was no competition for the top six positions.

   Nevertheless, running unopposed, First Vice President Louis Charbonneau of Reuters got votes from only 55 of the 88 people casting ballots. His vote count fell 30% from the previous year, more than double UNCA's overall 14% decline in turnout.

   Getting less than two-thirds of the votes in a race with no opponent at all is not only not a mandate: it is message that it is over. Here are the results in January 2013 for the unopposed six, and the vote count they [or their predecessor] got previously in December, 2011:

1/13   12/11

65      [85]   President: Pamela Falk, CBS News TV & Radio

55        79   First Vice President: Louis Charbonneau, Reuters;

60        71   2nd VP: Masood Haider, Dawn;

56        62    3rd VP: Sylviane Zehil, L'Orient le Jour;

55       [71]  Treasurer: Bouchra Benyoussef, Maghreb Arab Press;

67         81   Secretary: Barbara Plett, BBC.

   This is decay. Here are the vote counts for the nine "at large" positions on the UNCA Executive Committee:

39 - Nizar Abboub, Al-Akhbar Lebanon
47 - Nabil Abi Saab, Alhurra TV
45 - Talal Al-Haj, Al Arabiya News Channel
42 - Ali Barada, An-Nahar/France 24
39 - Courtney Brooks, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
47 - Denis Fitzgerald, Saudi Press Agency
37- Mercedes Gallego, Vocento
44 - Zhenqiu GU, Xinhua News Agency
41 - Kahraman Halicelik, Turkish Radio & TV (TRT)
55 - Melissa Kent, CBC/Radio-Canada
33 - Evelyn Leopold, Huffington Post Contributor
52 - Yasuomi Sawa, Kyodo News
57 - Tim Witcher, Agence-France-Presse

  This last, from AFP, began in September 2011 to ask for UNCA "action" against Inner City Press for its reporting on Herve Ladsous being named the fourth Frenchman in a row to the top post in UN Peacekeeping.

  In June of 2012 Witcher told the outgoing / gone Treasurer, Margaret Besheer of Voice of America, that AFP would join VOA in writing to the UN to get Inner City Press dis-accredited. Charbonneau said "his people" at Reuters would do the same.

  As twice noted, the new President has not said a word on the topics of censorship, or the need for conflict of interest rules for the UNCA Executive Committee.

   Now on January 11, the UN has announced that not only will media space at the UN be reduced by 40%, but the move back to the renovated building is being delayed until April.

  All UN phone lines that media have used, in the case of Inner City Press to call back the UN Peacekeeping missions and whistleblowers in the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire and Haiti, are being eliminated.

   And what has UNCA said about it? NOTHING. This is decay. The Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, has already written to the UN to protest both moves:

-Please provide an explanation of the further delay to April of the move back to the renovated building.

-FUNCA objects to the elimination of the UN phone lines, which as noted prove useful in covering UN Peacekeeping missions in the DRCongo, Cote d'Ivoire and Haiti.  Now it is unilaterally announced that the lines and long-used telephone numbers are gone. FUNCA asks for an explanation, and objects.

-Finally, for now (this supplements FUNCA's previous "feedback" letter), this is a request that the "final" floor plans be sent be e-mail, as the earlier ones were. If it was thought that e-mail of the scanned plans was the best way to make correspondents aware of the draft plans, why not the final plans?

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