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Sept 24, 2013

UN: Sri Lanka


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UNCA's Pioli Said He Could Keep Secret Reuters Complaint to UN, Censorship

By Matthew Russell Lee, part of a series

UNITED NATIONS, December 1 -- Press access and answers to questions at the UN have been in decline since at least 2011. Now in 2014 the new Free UN Coalition for Access is combating the trend, which can only be done by naming names and providing specifics, now including audio. And so this series.

  Giampaolo Pioli, who last time he was president of the United Nations Correspondents Association used the post to demand the censorship, Guardian here, is today running without any competition for another turn as UNCA's chief censor.

 Despite the lack of any competition, Pioli has reappeared in the UN after a long hiatus to try to turn out the vote. But he has said, a person cannot be a member of UNCA and the Free UN Coalition for Access at the same time. Since this absurd rule is nowhere in UNCA's "Constitution," it seems Pioli has moved from attacking freedom of the press to attacking freedom of belief and association.  Who supports this?

  Pioli's attempts to censor are public. In today's audio clip, here, Pioli as UN Correspondents Association president said it was fine that he withheld a copy of a complaint filed to the UN (in this case, by Reuters, copy went to Pioli as then-head of UNCA) -- that is, no due process for journalists. What kind of organization is UNCA? Under Pioli?

  Inner City Press quit UNCA, and co-founded the Free UN Coalition for Access with another Executive Committee member who quit UNCA in disgust. Now Pioli says no one could be a member of both. What kind of UN/CA is this?

 Note: later Reuters tried to get a leaked copy of its complaint banned from Google's Search, claiming it was private and copyrighted, here. What kind of organization is this?

 In a previous audio clip, two days before formally beginning a process to try to get Inner City Press thrown out, Giampaolo Pioli as President of the United Nations Correspondents Association complains about Inner City Press reporting that he rented out of his Manhattan apartments to "Palitha" [Kohona, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN] in the context of Pioli unilaterally using UNCA to screen a Sri Lanka government war crimes denial movie inside the UN.

 Two days later, Pioli would convene a UN Correspondents Association Excutive Committee meeting to "examine" Inner City Press and try to throw it out - first of UNCA, then of the UN at a whole. This is the Pioli slated to return, with no competition at all, to head what he made the UN's Censorship Alliance.

 In a previous audio clip, Pioli tried to dictate to Inner City Press how it should have covered Sri Lanka, suggesting it should simply transcribe what "Palitha" (Kohona) and Shavendra Silva said and not report that he, Pioli, had rented out of his Manhattan apartments to Kohona before agreeing to use UNCA to screen the Sri Lankan government's war crimes denial film inside the UN.

  "Why did you have to" report that? Pioli demanded, claiming the rental arrangement was significantly further in the past than it was.

  When Inner City Press refused to remove the article from the Internet, and Pioli refused the offer to publish a letter to the editor, Pioli made good on his threat to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Complaints were filed by Pioli's first vice president from Reuters, who also used the Reuters servers for the campaign.

  Now Pioli has reappeared, slated to re-take over the helm of UNCA, now the UN's Censorship Alliance. Who will serve him last his past first vice president, a position current held by a representative of Turkish media? As to how correspondent Pioli owns so much real estate, there is a Turkish connection on which we will have more. The UN cannot be allow to further decay on press freedom and access. Watch this site.

  In the last audio clip, Pioli as President of the UN Correspondents Association said of this Press story about him, "take it out" -- that is, remove the entire story from the Internet -- because it is false or, he then says, "basically false."

  But Pioli first complained that he still found online (audio) facts of which he admitted "nothing is false" -- that before unilaterally deciding to screen a Sri Lankan government film denying war crimes he had rented one of his Manhattan apartments to Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN.

  What was reported wasn't false, but Pioli ordered "take it out" and off the Internet. That is censorship. One question is, why is Pioli now seeking to return as head of UNCA, which he turned into the UN Censorship Alliance?

  The same clip has Pioli's then Vice President, himself a censor, here, deriding Inner City Press as a blogger someone "using" UNCA. In fact, after seeing how it could be used for censorship, Inner City Press quit UNCA and co-founded the new Free UN Coalition for Access.

   On September 6, 2011 without consulting with other UNCA board members Pioli used the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium and UNCA's now-debased logo to host a war crimes denial film by Sri Lanka's government. Inner City Press reported on the event, here.

  Numerous "emergency" UNCA meetings followed, including about Inner City Press' coverage of Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to head UN Peacekeeping despite his role during the Rwanda genocide of 1994; there was an amateurish statement drafted by Pioli about ethics.

  Then Pioli, supported by Agence France Presse, said that no dissent, no matter how short, could to appended to the statement. Audio clip here. AFP even said, send it out yourself - seemingly an invitation to write about the issue, which happened and led to threats to oust Inner City Press from the UN, which Voice of America requested saying it had the support of AFP and Reuters, which then tried a cover-up, here.

(There was was an even more free press unfriendly "apology" drafted by Pioli, as well as his UNCA stirring up death threats which have been ongoing -- but that's another story.)

   The day of Pioli's UNCA screening -- without UNCA board approval or even notice -- of Sri Lanka's war crimes denial, attempts at outright censorship began.

  Pioli had a financial relationship with Sri Lanka's ambassador Palitha Kohona, renting Kohona one of Pioli's Manhattan apartments. Inner City Press was told if it persisted in reporting this, Pioli would get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN. Inner City Press offered to run a response by Pioli, of any length, but the demand was that the article be removed from the Internet in its entirety: pure censorship. This is UNCA's past and seemingly future; watch for the next installment in this series.

Pioli & Ban Ki-moon, Sri Lanka war crimes denial not shown. UN Photo/Mark Garten

  Here is an audio clip in which Pioli while he was president of UNCA told Inner City Press that it should not report what a UN Assistant Secretary General said in a public place. Audio here.

  Pioli would go on to order that an article about his own conflict of interest regarding Sri Lanka be taken down from the Internet or he would get the Press thrown out of the UN.

   So Pioli wants to ride again. After seeking the ouster of the investigative Press from the UN -- promising to bring it about, and demanding the removal of articles from the Internet -- he seeks to re-assume UNCA's presidency, endorsed by his two-year figurehead fill-in, Pamela Falk.  He is endorsing a slate of media that supported the ouster of the investigative Press, one of which then sought to censor even that, click here.

  To show how far the UN has fallen, consider that Pioli in September 2011 wrote and proposed this statement for UNCA's Executive Committee to issue:

"GiamPioli [at]; dear Colleagues, I propose to consider for a vote this statement  but I am more than happy to discuss  again

  That is Giampaoli Pioli, the once and future president of the UN's Censorship Alliance. The above draft, by Pioli, was at the request of Agence France Presse, after an inquiry by the French mission to the UN. AFP's reporter wrote: "I am writing to you to request some kind of action by UNCA over a story published by Inner City Press on Friday which has caused serious damage to AFP. Inner City Press published a story about the new head of UN peacekeeping" -- that would be, Herve Ladsous. We will have more on this.

  Neither in 2011 and 2012 nor since has Pioli asked any critical questions at the UN, or pushed for greater access for journalists - quite the opposite. He rented one of his apartments to the ambassador of a country he later let screen a war crimes denial film in the UN under the sponsorship of UNCA, without even checking with other Executive Committee members much less recusing himself.

  After Inner City Press reported on this, as later revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request to US state media Voice of America, "the lawyer's at our UNCA president's newspaper are preparing their libel lawsuit" against Inner City Press, click here for that. No lawsuit was ever filed, and how could it be? Pioli DID rent one of his apartment to the ambassador whose war crimes denial film he later screened. It was simply pressure to censor the coverage. Later it showed up in Italian, here.

  Pioli hosts UN officials and those whose votes he wants at a Long Island mansion he rents out, for tens of thousands of dollars a month, during the summer. He makes campaign contributions to politicians he is supposed to be covering. Small but telling, in the UN Press Briefing Room he gave a gift to the UN Deputy Spokesperson. This is the past and future UNCA.

  And how would this further decayed UNCA advocate even to maintain media access at the UN?

  In September 2014 during the General Assembly debate week, Ban's chief of peacekeeping blocked a Press camera (Vine here), and the French mission ordered all non-French journalists to leave a briefing by President Francois Hollande in the UN Press Briefing Room.

   The new Free UN Coalition for Access actively opposed both of these, as well as restrictions on getting to the General Assembly stakeout and on taking photographs from the General Assembly photographers booth. After making the latter complaint to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on October 17, Dujarric's office two hours later promoted a meeting ostensibly to discuss "access problems," by UNCA a/k/a UN's Censorship Alliance.

  Now the UNCA "minutes" and partial list of grievances have been provided to FUNCA. They are laughable. The ejection of non-French journalists from the UN Briefing Room is not mentioned, nor the physical blocking of filming.

  Instead, UNCA under figurehead Pamela Falk and sidekick complains that there is too much news during the General Assembly -- they want fewer side events -- and apparently too many journalists at the UN: they want a private wi-fi password leaving the current open wi-fi only for "guests and others."

   The current and seemingly future vice president of UNCA came to the UN Security Council stakeout to inform FUNCA, apparently officially, that the recent for less news is only from one Board member, naming her. But the minutes are the minutes, and the UN Censorship Alliance's function is what it is: anathema to press freedom.

  Tellingly, one of the UNCA proposals is for a booklet co-signed by Ban Ki-moon and UNCA.

  With this bogus list and presumably seeking that booklet, they say that the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit proposes to meet only with their Executive Committee. This is akin to a fake wrestling match, in which the two sides pretend to fight, for an audience.

  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. And now it seems it will get even worse.

  During the October 16 UN General Assembly session to elect five new members to the UN Security Council, the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit came into the GA photographers' booth and said that only "wire service" photographers could remain.

  But MALU has not offered any definition of "wire service," in this new media age. The new Free UN Coalition for Access has demanded such a definition, most recently of Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric at the October 17 UN noon briefing. Video here.

 Dujarric, saying he was quoting a Supreme Court justice on another topic, said, What is a wire service? I know one when I see one.

   This is, as it were, the definition of arbitrary.

 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.

   During last month's General Debate, journalists weren't even been able to go to the General Assembly stakeout without an escort from MALU -- an escort that often did not come on time, or come at all.

  There was, as well, substantive censorship. Most recently of October 16, media photographing the UN General Assembly vote for new Security Council members were ordered NOT to photograph the tables of the voters. Inner City Press for FUNCA resisted, and discussed this issue along with the elections (and Cambodia) on Huffington Post Live's "World Brief" on October 17, here.

On September 27 while Inner City Press filmed from within the GA stakeout area, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous came over and blocked -- or Banned -- the filming, demanding to know what it was for. Vine here. Then Ladsous canceled the scheduled public Q&A stakeout on Mali.

  While the new Free UN Coalition for Access challenged this censorship, on September 27 at the stakeout and following up the next week, the old UNCA has done nothing about it. In fact, UNCA big wigs have been happy to take private briefings from Ladsous and others, as access at the UN for less "insider" correspondents has continued to decline.

  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.)

   Now, in a typical UN charade, the very UNCA which oversaw this decrease in access belatedly says it is concerned and conducts UN-promoted meetings that are akin to faux, scripted wrestling matches with fake punches. This is the UNCA that played softball soccer with Ban, promoting and allowing him a photo op.

  Many of these promotions are signed by UNCA figurehead Pamela Falk of CBS, nowhere seen during noon briefing fights about media access. Meanwhile the UN Spokesperson's office is promoting a for-pay event for UNCA, by taping a flier for it on its counter. This is the UN's Censorship Alliance.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access has told the UN, again on October 16, that it must address and reverse its blocking of press access, and that if it needs input it must hold a meeting open to all journalists who cover the UN, not just its chosen UNCA -- the UN's Censorship Alliance -- which has become akin to a company-created and supported union.

   Ban's spokesperson's office declined to criticize the September 27 censorship, nor Ladsous' spokesman subsequently asking another media to confirm that it would not air an on the record interview with Ladsous' deputy Edmond Mulet about the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. Video here.

  In fact Ban's Spokesman played a part in, at least defending, a French-only briefing in the UN Press Briefing Room.

On September 23, the entourage of French President Francois Hollande repeatedly but unsuccessfully ordered the UN accredited Press to leave the UN's Press Briefing RoomVideo here.

  On September 25 when the Free UN Coalition for Access asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who peaked out from the VIP / Green Room behind the Press Briefing Room, about the incident, he said sometimes countries try to reserve the Room.

   Asked if other countries had done so during this General Assembly, Dujarric said yes.

   Inner City Press then asked Dujarric which other countries, beyond his native France:

based on your answer at today's noon briefing, please state which countries during this UNGA have used the UN Press Briefing Room for briefing not open to all UN correspondents, other than France at 11 am on September 23. Also, what was your role on September 23 around 11 am in the room behind the Press Briefing Room podium?

 This has been Dujarric's response:

Subject: please state which countries..
From: Stephane Dujarric [at]
Date: Thu, Sep 25, 2014 at 1:06 PM
To: Inner City Press
Cc: funca <funca [at]>

I don't have the information on the first point for you. On the second, I'm not sure that I understand it except that I was just looking into the room. I tend to be a curious person.

Stephane Dujarric (Mr.)
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters

   FUNCA is left wondering: ARE there any other countries? The question has been asked again by FUNCA, elsewhere. And it has been on HuffPost Live, here. Watch this site.

Footnote: as noted the old UN Correspondents Association, which is given privileged status and set-aside first questions nearly always used for softballs, has done nothing in recent years to improve or even defend press access. In fact, members of UNCA's Executive Committee have tried to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN, and there have been no reforms since. It's become the UN's Censorship Alliance. They provide Ban Ki-moon with photo ops playing soccer with them. This is today's UN - and FUNCA is fighting to hold the UN to its stated principles.


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