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At UN, Fixed Election of Censoring Party Planner UNCA Has Attackers of Free Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 8 -- The day before an election with no competition for the top six spots, fliers raising the point that the fix was in were torn down in the UN, in the press floor above the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

  Downstairs in the press corps' outward looking face, fliers that had been defaced with "Crazy Club" were cleaned and left up, to make it appear all was well with the UN Correspondents Association.

  But nothing could be further from the truth.

   An organization which once played the role of making the UN more transparent and accessible has devolved into at best a party planner, at worst a proponent of censorship as was shown in 2012.

   Five big media members of the UNCA Executive Committee sought to expel a smaller investigative media which dared to raise questions of conflict of interest. When a legal defense was mounted, three of the five decided to ask the UN to dis-accredit the Press, in a stealth June 20, 2012 letter from Voice of America to the UN's Stephane Dujarric.

  While Voice of America's Steve Redisch was the signer of the letter, his UN bureau chief Margaret Besheer had told him that her colleagues from Reuters and Agence France-Presse, Louis Charbonneau and Tim Witcher respectively, would support the letter or write their own.

  On June 18 at 12:58 pm, Besheer wrote to VOA's lawyers that

"My AFP colleague asks if they could possibly get the tenor of our letter so they can stay on message and ask In the same way. Their legal dept is in France, so It would be their regional director in Washington contacting UN on their behalf."

  This is not speculation: Inner City Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request, since Voice of America is a US government agency, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the governing Broadcasting Board of Governors.

  Before any documents were released, Charbonneau and the now outgoing president asked Inner City Press to withdraw the FOIA request. But as investigative media, Inner City Press did not do that -- it has never done that. 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.

  In early August some documents came in (more were released on appeal in early December), with Besheer assuring her bosses that UNCA had met with the UN, "very quietly," to get Inner City Press thrown out. Besheer veered into alleged medical history of which she had and has no knowledge, and no right.

  It is not therefore surprising that Besheer is not "running" for re-election. Nor is the president who oversaw this travesty, nor one of the five big media denouncers of the Press, nor another voting with them.

  But Charbonneau, shamelessly some say, is pursuing without competition another term as first vice president. With a replacement president who is not as frequently at the UN, he seems to believe he would again be the one running the show, to the benefit of himself if not of Reuters.

  While Charbonneau has used his Rasputin like position to try to get more favored position for Reuters, on UN trips for example, it is not at all clear that his role in seeking to expel the Press in contravention of principles of freedom of expression has been or will be helpful to Reuters.

  It is impossible to know for certain, since Reuters' top executives including Stephen J. Adler refused to answer any questions, including about Reuters' policy if any of crediting smaller media when Reuters takes their scoops. Instead, Charbonneau told Voice of America that Reuters was ready to try to sue the Press.

  Witcher too is running again, if only for an "at large" seat. So is another reporter they used, to file a complaint with the UN which the official complained to found "frivolous" upon review.

   And so something is sick within UNCA, and this fixed election 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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