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UNCA Leaders Fail on Vowed Presence at All UN Briefings, Tear Down Flyers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 19 – The first item in an hour long February 15 meeting of UN Correspondents Association concerned the UNCA Executive Committee's vote to "be present at every noon briefing." Click here for audio of the meeting, Part 1.
  This was presumably to raise the profile or defend the place of the decaying organization, now called the UN's Censorship Alliance. Getting the first question at noon briefings, of course, involves invoking favoritism from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office.

  At the very next UN noon briefing on February 19, none of the 15 members of UNCA's Executive Committee was present. Had the decay proceeded even further over the three day weekend?

  It's not that the UNCA "leaders" weren't present elsewhere in the UN on Tuesday morning. They ripped down substantive flyers of the Free UN Coalition for Access which critiqued by the UN's accreditation rules and UNCA's capture by the largest media.

  A flyer was torn down right next to the door of UNCA's president Pamela Falk of CBS. She has written that a non-UNCA "open" bulletin board will be permitted: but it has not been in the 12 days since. This is UN-itis.

  Financial opacity, too: though no written UNCA  financial statements were provided, total cash of $237,940 was alluded to at Friday's meeting, the vast majority of it collected at UNCA's $250 a plate annual dinner. A member asked for a written report; this was referred to “Other Matters” but was never addressed.

   It was said that the 15 members of the Security Council and their spouses are let in to the UNCA Ball for free.  Members were urged to now lobby the Council members about the layout of the Security Council stakeout, an issue on which UNCA apparently fell asleep in 2012 while they focused on trying to expel the investigative Press, first from UNCA then from the UN as a whole.

   A “leader” of that drive, Reuters' Louis Charbonneau, bragged in Friday's meeting that French Ambassador Gerard Araud supports the tearing down of a wall near the so-called Turkish lounge; “we need more countries like that,” Charbonneau said.

   He also said, “we need a few people with sledgehammers - then problem solved.” This is the approach he and UNCA have taken to the FUNCA flyers. Charbonneau's twist is to also suggest to the UN that it charge money for “a new paint job” after the flyers are torn down.

   This passive-aggressive approach was on display Friday when as soon as an UNCA member objected to a financial proposal, Charbonneau immediately called for bypassing debate and going straight to a vote, like the last President of the General Assembly from Qatar used to do.

  On the question of UNCA presence at noon briefings, Charbonneau perhaps to make it easier on himself and his 14 peers said it didn't have to be an Executive Committee member. So anyone that pays the UNCA annual dues gets a question before those who choose not to be part of UNCA? Pay to play?

  And since this, at least the plan, impacts the rights of journalists at the UN who are not UNCA members, wouldn't it have to be disclosed to all journalists? The first part of the audio is the first step. But more are needed.

   One of those actually witnessed tearing flyers down has been Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse, who at Friday's meeting spoke only once, to urge members to send “e-mail and letters” to member states.

  One wonder if the regurgitation of fawning coverage might be part of the plan to get the support of some member states?

   Referring to the Turkish Lounge, Joe Lauria of the Wall Street Journal reminisced about accessing Sergei Lavrov there. More recently, Lauria mocked an alleged victim of sexual harassment: after the person said that their complaint was news, Lauria said sarcastically that he couldn't cover it since he had not made a recording of it.

   On the other hand, Charbonneau said that this fight about the wall “might be a story” in the media; new UNCA president Pamela Falk of CBS said that on the wall the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists is being obtained.

   This seems strange, since only this week CPJ's Rob Mahoney declined to answer Inner City Press' question about the UN's accreditation rules barring journalists based on geography and “principles,” calling these “in house” matters.

Under Falk, the focus of UNCA seems to be on trying to prop up the organization's credibility, or at least visibility. The first presentation in the meeting, made by Sylviane Zehil of L'Orient le Jour, was that the Executive Committee voted that its members, or an alternative, should ask a question for UNCA “at every noon briefing.”

  This was never done before; when Falk recently thanked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman Eduardo Del Buey for coming to the noon briefing, even Del Buey had to laugh.

  Falk said she aims to send “everything” to UNCA members, including floor plans of the Security Council that the UN for some reason didn't just post itself so that all journalists could see, rather than trying to prop up the sagging UNCA.

   But several members have noted that Falk does NOT “sending everything” -- where for example is the transcript or recording of her and 12 opaque UNCA apostles' February 7 session with Ban Ki-moon?

There was talk of revamping UNCA's Constitution,using a lawyer who did the same for UNCA's affiliate the Dag Hammarskjold Fund for Journalism.

  UNCA has already violated its Constitution three times in the past two months - late on elections, leaving power, and general meeting - but noted Friday the Constitution's failure to address new and social media. The supporter in charge followed the meeting with a sycophantic tweet about how “excellent” it had all been. Compared to what?

   Falk also bragged that UNCA will be more active in social media, saying that Denis Fitzgerald of Saudi Press Agency will “spearhead” this. Since Falk took over, UNCA “leaders” have set up at least three anonymous social media accounts to try to undermine FUNCA and co-founder Inner City Press, by sending false messages to country's missions to the UN.

  For the record, Fitzgerald wrote in last weekend to say he is “not a part” of fake social media accounts. This was noted, though he has yet to respond to follow up questions sent to him, and he did not appear at UNCA's February 15 meeting.

   Now that Fitzgerald's been said to “spearhead” Team UNCA's social media, his response will become clear. Likewise, there is more to be said about this “annual” meeting, but this is it for now.

  Other than “the wall,” much of the meeting was about how 21 broadcasters -- including Falk's CBS? -- intend to use UNCA as a conduit for money to the UN.

   It was said that “the UN will deal only with UNCA.” That is the problem, increasingly untenable. Watch this site.

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