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UNCA Uses Noon Briefing to Demand 1st Question for Those Who Pay, Despite Evo Fiasco

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 – Yesterday Bolivia's president Evo Morales was repeatedly cut off and urged to cede the first question in his quinoa press conference to an unelected representative of the UN Correspondents Association.

  Today UNCA president Pamela Falk of CBS came to claim that even at the UN's daily noon briefing, it is “tradition” that UNCA should always get the first question.

[February 21 video here, from Minute 15:22; the February 20 Evo Morales fiasco video is here, from Minute 4:55 to 6:05.]

   Inner City Press on behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access objected, and asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman Martin Nesirky if he had called on Falk first the past two days as a journalists or as a representative of UNCA. Video here, from Minute 13.

   The basis of the objection was not only that UNCA had created a “fiasco” during the Evo Morales press conference, drawing negative comments to the UN from all over the world -- click here for sample complaint against UNCA from Germany.

  Also, since UNCA charges nearly $100 a year for dues giving its members the first question would constitute conditioning this access to the UN to the payment of money.

   This point was raised by UNCA's own annual meeting on February 15, when Falk's first vice president Louis Charbonneau of Reuters said that the UNCA seat for the first question was not limited to the Executive Committee but was for any UNCA member. Audio here, Part 1.

  The only requirement, as for the UNCA representative who heckled Evo Morales, is the payment of the nearly $100 in dues. Pay to play.

   It is Falk, who agreed to run without any competition for UNCA presidency after a year in which the organization spend most of its meetings trying to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, who has brought this on.

   Contrary to her claim, a simple review of webcast archives of UN noon briefings over the past six years will show that it is not at all the tradition for UNCA to get the first question at regular noon briefings. In fact, when Falk earlier this year cited UNCA in a first question to Nesirky's deputy Eduardo Del Buey, even Del Buey had to laugh. It was unheard of.

  But UNCA is under fire -- its “leaders” have been tearing down substantive flyers by the Free UN Coalition for Access and starting anonymous social media accounts to try to undermine FUNCA and Inner City Press by sending false messages to countries' mission to the UN.

   This is Falk's UNCA, and it seems clear it cannot have the first question at UN noon briefings.

  In mid 2012, according to documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act from Voice of America, UNCA “met with UN officials (very quietly)" to get Inner City Press thrown out.

  Voice of America, saying it had the support of Reuters and Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse, made the request on June 20, 2012.

   The UN confirmed receipt - but once the request was exposed and VOA got calls from Congress, the process stopped.

   On Thursday, Falk insisted on making a “right to reply” to what had been Inner City Press' question, and pontificatd that “for almost six decades” UNCA has been having a first question because it supposedly represents the vast majority of media covering the UN.

  In fact, UNCA represents less than ten percent of the journalists accredited to cover the UN, and an even smaller percentage of reporters worldwide who cover the UN.

  In recent years, UNCA has become a plaything of a small number of big media, to get themselves big offices and, as happened in 2012, to try to throw other media who dare stand up to them out of the UN.

   All of this has been raised to the UN. The Free UN Coalion for Access has met with the head of the Department of Public Information, who has most recently confirmed receipt of FUNCA's list of ten reforms needed to the UN accreditation and Media Access Guidelines.

   After weeks of UNCA “leaders” tearing down, defacing and counterfeiting Free UN Coalition for Access flyers while maintaining their own glassed-in bulletin board (on which they posted a letter denouncing Inner City Press for five months in 2012), FUNCA has been told that a new “open” bulletin board had been ordered.

   It has been suggested that even before its arrival, space be made for non-UNCA postings which UNCA “leaders” will be directed not to deface. Watch this site.

Footnote: Perhaps Falk is unaware that it is NOT a “tradition” for UNCA to have the first question at noon briefings because she has so infrequently attended the briefings.

   It was notable on Thursday that after in the lead announcement, which delayed the briefing one hour, Nesirky said the UN dismissed the claim it introduced cholera to Haiti as “not receivable,” Falk even with the first question -- for the last time, it is hoped -- did not ask about Haiti, but about the status of her own letter to the UN, then about the Alliance of Civilizations.

  (UNCA is promoting to its members a “private luncheon” on Friday with the Alliance of Civilizations.) That's UNCA: quite the nose for news...

From the UN's February 21, 2013 transcript:

Inner City Press: I have some other stuff as a question, but I wanted to make sure to be able to ask this one. It's a very simple one, it has to do with how these briefings are conducted, and I just want to say for the last couple of days, each time you’ve called on Pam, I don’t know if this is in the context of [United Nations Correspondents Association], and the reason that I ask it is that yesterday there was a briefing here by the President of Bolivia, and there was something of a minute-long — I would call it a fiasco — in which it was said it is a tradition that UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] get the first question; he [Evo Morales] continued to call on somebody else, it went around and around, so I just wanted to be sure, is it a tradition in the noon briefing to give UNCA the first question? Because, if so, I object because they have said that the same seat will be given to any UNCA member who are, in fact, paying dues and it creates a situation in which, basically, people are required to pay money to get the first question, and I would encourage the UN not to create, allow or permit such a tradition.

Spokesperson Nesirky: Thank you for your statement. What’s your question? Any other questions?

Inner City Press: Thank you, it has to do with Brahimi. There have been these various reports that Mr. Brahimi has agreed to extend his contract for six months, and it was said that it was going to expire on Friday. Is that the case?

Spokesperson: I can confirm that the contract of the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been extended through to the end of this year — so not six months. Through to the end of this year. The contracts for his Deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, and the head of his Damascus office, Mokhtar Lamani, have been extended for a similar length of time.

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