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In S. Sudan, UN Silent on Media Crackdown, UN Selective Edits of Transcript

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 26 -- What is the commitment of the UN, and its Peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, to freedom of the press?

Earlier this month when Salva Kiir's information minister Michael Makuei Lueth said the all media would have to register with the government and publications pushed back, Inner City Press on December 5 asked UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky:

Inner City Press: in South Sudan the media, large and small, they are complaining about unwritten rules being issued by the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, requiring information they say is not in the statute from journalists and they say it is basically to silence the media in South Sudan. Since there is a UN peacekeeping mission there, I am wondering, do they have any comment on these Government moves concerning the press in South Sudan?

Spokesperson Nesirky: Well, I think the Secretary-Generalís Special Representative in South Sudan has been quite vocal on the need for press freedom and freedom of the media. So, I would refer you to what she said in the past. But, I will look to see if there is anything specific on this latest aspect that you are referring to.

  Nesirky never returned with any statement by SRSG Hilde Johnson (nor has his office answered the South Sudan questions Inner City Press has e-mailed to him and the "Duty Officer" as he has gone a week without holding a noon briefing at which questions could be asked.)

  But on December 26, Nesirky was the moderator when Hilde Johnson appeared by video to take questions. Inner City Press asked about Johnson praising Salva Kiir on accountability despite reports that weapons were handed out from inside his own compound (Inner City Press story here).

  Now Nesirky's office has issued a transcript of Johnson's press conference. In the transcript, left in as the self-identification of the first questioner, like Nesirky a former Reuters reporter, thanking Johnson on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, a group which has documentably asked the UN to throw out the investigative press, and has not seen any reforms since; the new Free UN Coalition for Access has been established.

  Next, Nesirky called on Reuters bureau chief Louis Charbonneau, who not only supported the request to throw out Inner City Press, but even spied for the UN, giving an internal anti-Press UNCA document to the UN three minutes after promising not to do so. (Story here, document here, audio here.)

  The transcript sent out by Nesirky's office leaves in the identification "Reuters," as it left in UNCA and, next, AP.

But for the fourth question, Inner City Press' question on Johnson praising Kiir, the transcript omits both the thanks on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, and Inner City Press. Compare to the UN Video, here, at Minute 20:39.

  It is, one person seeing the transcript joked, like recent revisionism and erasure in North Korea. You just erase out what you don't like. But is this the UN? Johnson's UNMISS? This is UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous, who says openly he has "policy" of not answering Press questions? Video here, UK coverage here.

  Who is responsible for the UN's nitty-gritty but telling censorship and erasure? We'll have more on this. Watch this site.


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