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Ban Spoon-Fed Saudi Trip to Censorship Alliance, Flogged Blogger Not Shown

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 5 -- At the UN, transparency and access are in decline, due to collusion. Dubious exclusives, sometimes merely about logistics, are given to favored scribes, who uncritically repeat them: call it news.

  After one such sham transaction, on Saudi Arabia, the next day on February 5 the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said

"You might be aware of this already, but I have a trip announcement for you; I believe the Secretary-General mentioned this to some of you yesterday.  The Secretary-General will depart for Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Friday, 6 February, to convey his condolences to the people of Saudi Arabia, who had recently lost their leader, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.  During his two-day stay in Saudi Arabia, the Secretary-General will also meet with country’s new leader, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud."

  The "some of you" referred to the Executive Committee of the UN Correspondents Association, which released no transcript of the spoon-feeding session, merely tweeting from the session, at 1:42 pm, "#UNSG Ban tells UNCA committee he will travel to #SaudiArabia on Friday to meet King Salman to talk Mideast challenges, then on to #UAE."

 No mention for example of Saudi flogged blogger Raif Badawi, from an organization which claims to care about freedom of the press - actually, it doesn't -- now any other questions. A mere pass-through.

 Relatedly, in a telling dysfunction, UN Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous on January 22 openly refused to answer Press questions, video here.

  Then on February 4, when Inner City Press asked at the UN noon briefing about the UN not fighting the FDLR rebels in DR Congo, Ladsous' DPKO spoon-fed stories making itself look like a promoter of human rights, to Reuters and Agence France Presse.

  After the noon briefing - but not listed on Ban's public schedule - Ban (spoon) fed a wider but intersecting group of scribes, the Executive Committee of the UN Correspondents Association. The UN released Ban's scripted "opening remarks" which end, I am ready to engage in dialogue with you. Really? So where's the transcript of the Q&A? UNCA has refused in the past to release this.

  The UN released the "opening remarks," with Ban saying "I would like to make a brief announcement.  On Friday I will travel to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a meeting with His Majesty King Salman and to pay my personal respects on the death of His Majesty King Abdullah."

 This doled-out, or literally spoon-fed, news was pumped out from the luncheon, and only after that by Dujarric's office.

 Did the UN's Censorship Alliance board ask Ban if he will try to visit, or speak about, Saudi flogger blogger Raif Badawi? UNCA has yet to release any transcript; nor did they raise Ban's silence on the trial of the Free Zone 9 Bloggers while in Ethiopia. It is the UN's Censorship Alliance.

   Journalists at the UN are not required to be part of UNCA, and many choose not to. So why limit this Q&A? Do regular, money paying UNCA members ever get it? What exactly is being paid for?

  The larger point here is that the UNCA Executive Committee has shown itself willing to try to get thrown out of the UN the investigative Press -- making itself into the UN's Censorship Alliance. It does not press for greater access - quite the contrary.

  For example on January 23 there was a UN Security Council meeting about human rights and UN Peacekeeping missions, including MONUSCO. But the meeting was closed to the public and press. Inner City Press for the Free UN Coalition for Access asked and asks, Why? The old United Nations Correspondents Association, on the other hand, not only doesn't protest such closures - it scheduled its only "faux fighters" meeting for exactly the same time.

  This decayed UN Correspondents Association, run by president Giampaolo Pioli who has himself demanded censorship, held its annual meeting on January 23, and even by its own account, not a word about access problems or lack of information.

Here was the agenda, annotated, now with "minutes" as provided by disgruntled members who say the UN "makes" them pay UNCA, added in italics:

Space, "including journalists on the waiting list for office space" -- on January 23, UNCA's "leadership" said that "that after meeting with DPI working space on the 4th floor will become available to 6-8 journalists beginning in February."

  Even or especially if this representation is true, there is a problem: UNCA is essentially selling or trying to sell these UN spaces. UNCA tells correspondents that if they pay money to join it, they will be helped in getting office space from the UN. Is this proper?

Less than a quarter of those UNCA took $66,485 from attended this meeting; numerous Executive Committee members did not attend. Pioli bragged of "a larger number of sponsors," but the minutes did not list them. There'll be more on this.

  Meanwhile, UNCA leadership is proposal to downgrade some with "white" UN passed to "green," requiring them to go through a separate entrance and metal detectors. UNCA is responsible for Banning many from entry into the UN.

"UNCA room activities, press conferences and events for 2015" -- Pioli in his last tenure granted the Ambassador of Sri Lanka Palitha Kohona, a former tenant of Pioli in one of his Manhattan apartments, the use of UNCA to screen inside the UN a film denying Rajapaksa government war crimes. It was reporting about this that Pioli ordered Inner City Press to remove from the Internet. There have been no reforms since.

  Now UNCA brags that HRW will use or be used by its space. This is shameful - and we'll have more on it. Pioli sat in on the January 26 noon briefing, apparently to see if any of these outrages would be aired, typically asking no questions at all.

"Social media" - despite Ban's UN purporting to use UNCA to reach all journalists at the UN, the Press is blocked from UNCA's moribund social media presence. Is this attributable to all 15 Executive Committee members? Just Pioli?

 On January 23, Pioli said that the Reuters correspondent who grabbed two questions after Ladsous said "I don't respond to your questions Mister" is in charge of UNCA tweets.

"UNCA soccer" - this involved providing a craven photo op for, yes, Ban Ki-moon

"UNCA Awards 2015" - in December 2014, UNCA gave out an award about Haiti with no mention of the UN bringing cholera there, or UN peacekeepers shooting at democracy demonstrators. Ban Ki-moon was in attendance and they had him take pictures with another of their awardees, which was mischaracterized as  UN award. As with office space, it seems that UNCA sells the UN. 

  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told MALU, but repeats: if they even aspire to legitimacy, the UN must reach out to all journalists, at the UN and ideally beyond, and not that subset which pay UNCA money. That is a decidedly partial subset: a fake wrestling match.

 The UN while throwing out media from workspace gives its UN Censorship Alliance a large room, which it then limits to those that pay it money in dues. Here's how it works: a new media at the UN is told, from the pinnacle of the UN's Censorship Alliance, to pay UNCA $90 and UNCA will get the UN to give the media UN office space.

     Today's UN Censorship Alliance is unlikely to get any meaningful media access problem addressed -- members its Executive Committee have, in fact, caused or colluded in many of the decreases in access. They drafted a rule with MALU to eliminate journalist workspace at the Security Council stakeout; they withheld audio tapes and transcripts of a Ban "interview" with them, even from their own members.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access targeted these censorship practices in a September 29 flier, online, in the UN including on the "open" bulletin board it got the UN to install (the flier was torn down, one can only imagine by whom, but has gone back up.)

   This was described on HuffPost Live, here.)


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