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Sept 24, 2013

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When UNSG Met Sisi, UN Sent Egypt State Media As "Pool" Reporter, Barred Independent Press

By Matthew Russell Lee, Video

UNITED NATIONS, September 20 – The UN is limiting access passes during this UN General Assembly week to what it calls “resident correspondents,” many of whom rarely even come into the UN, some whom have never asked any questions. Not only access, but also "pooling" opportunities, are limited without disclosure to insider correspondents. This hit a new low on September 20, when Inner City Press' request to cover the meeting of Egypt's Sisi with Secretary General Antonio Guterres was denied - and a rarely present Egyptian state media was authorized by the UN to "pool" the meeting. Afterward, Inner City Press asked for Akhbar al Yom's pool report, and got this: "Evidently there was not much to report as the photo was in GA-200 and the meeting in another room. They welcomed each other, the president signed the guest book, they took hand shake photos and went to the other room." Even in GA-200, in which Inner City Press was previously allowed to cover bilateral meetings, there was more to observe. Inner City Press has asked: "why then was a print pool reporter given one of the few spots in G-200?  Who decided that Egyptian state media would take one of the spots, as pool?  And as pool, who was there on the Egyptian side, and on the Secretariat side? Feltman? UN Human Rights?" Did Akhbar al Yom, the "pool," even look for these things? Would they report them if they saw them? Their retiree is a former president of UNCA, which bragged to its dues paying members that the UN "has informed us that we have approval to send a pool reporter to the SG bi laterals/photo ops, where possible. If you are interested in pooling one of these events, please send an email to the UNCA office... Sherwin Bryce-Pease, President, United Nations Correspondents Association." Egypt, needless to say, has one of the worst press freedom records in the world - but its state media was on September 20 the UN's, and UNCA's, "pool" to covers Sisi's UNSG meeting. Meanwhile the investigative Press asking the UN every day about UN reform and corruption, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Burundi and elsewhere, is banned from the passes, as are the many journalists working out of the UN Media Center (in which the handler of French President Emmanuel Macron took over a whole row, despite claims there are no assigned seats). The UN's holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric, when Inner City Press asked, said le Media Center, ce n'est pas moi. He also said, in a "background" briefing he tried to exclude Inner City Press from, that he would be sending around the "grid" of UNGA events. He never sent it to Inner City Press, nor presumably to the other journalists the UN denies the special "UNCA" passes to. But Inner City Press obtained the grid from a disgusted whistleblower elsewhere in the UN system and now in the spirit of the Free UN Coalition for Access puts it online here, for wider use. (If Scribd stops working, as it sometimes does, it is also on Patreon, here.) Open the UN. On September 15, as Inner City Press worked in the small booth it's confined to since being evicted from the UN Press Briefing Room and its UN office by UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, it saw some insider correspondents passing by and into the Briefing Room. To not fall into a trap, Inner City Press asked UN Media Accreditation what the event was, of which it was not informed. You can go in, it was told. Inside, three senior UN officials we'll leave unnamed were giving a background briefing about Secretary General Antonio Guterres' schedule for the General Assembly week. Inner City Press asked why there are no events about Yemen and Burundi, and told the officials to tell Guterres to ensure that all journalists are treated fairly. Dujarric cut that off and said, "You're here, aren't you?" Only because the other venue he'd tried to invite his friends to was too small and the event was moved. This is how today's UN is working - or not working. This too: Inner City Press has learned that last month, after it asked Dujarric how the UN had vetted a shadowy event co-sponsored as exposed in the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe trial by a business interest and two developing world countries, Dujarric told the Permanent Representative of one of the sponsors NOT to talk to Inner City Press, it would just write about it. The UN has arrived at the situation in which its holdover spokesman tells member states not to speak to the Press. Now those at the top of the UN know about it - what will they do? They are responsible. New DPI chief Alison Smale has as of yet changed nothing, has not even responded to a petition on the issues. Retaliation for coverage continues, and exclusion or attempted exclusion from UN "Communications." Reform was discussed and even, for once, asked about, but only vaguely. The UN and its affiliates were bribed by Ng Lap Seng, as shown in a trial this summer. No answers. Back last Friday an UNnamed UN speaker in what was declared a background briefing not made available to media coming to cover the GA week told Inner City Press that while it is not a “resident correspondent” - it was evicted while covering the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe corruption scandal - it could perhaps stakeout for example the Yemen meeting, but only with an “escort.” That is a UN minder, some of whom ask Inner City Press who it is trying to speak to. This is UNacceptable, the Free UN Coalition for Access says, as it the weakened wi-fi and lack of LAN lines for any but the insider correspondents of UNCA. The UNnamed speaker said that the limitation of the access passes was agreed to, or requested by, UN Security and this UNCA (UN Correspondents Association a/k/a UN Censorship Alliance). It was for seeking to cover this group's event in the UN Press Briefing Room, presumptively open to all journalists, to see if they would address having received funds from then indict, now convicted Ng Lap Seng that Inner City Press was evicted and still restricted. We'll have more on this, and access issues before, during and after #UNGA72. The access briefing should have been webcast to journalists coming; UN Security should have been there, and the Department of Public Information leadership reportedly beginning work on September 8 - they have been asked, for reforms. When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres gave a speech to honor fallen UN staff on September 8, he took the opportunity to say that if the sacrifices of UN staff were known by unnamed UN critics, they wouldn't say what they do. But the UN is in need of reform, which requires critique. And, frankly, sometime UN staff and experts are killed with some role played by UN negligence, for example in Kasai in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The problem with what Guterres said is that it emboldens others in the UN system to simply shout down or vilify critical voices, sometimes to the point of outright physical eviction and restriction, and sometimes short of that. Only the previous day, the acting head of the UN Department of Public Information Maher Nasser on his last day in the post allowed a heckler to block Inner City Press' questions about the UN's duty to the Haitian families impacted by the cholera it brought to the island - then when Inner City Press asked a legal immunity question, to say loudly, It's always about you. Well, DPI did evict Inner City Press with no hearing or appeals, and has restricted it every day since. But speeches such as that on September 8, UNcorrected, validate targeting and censorship. Nasser's successor Alison Smale has been written to, for reversal. And Guterres did tell a moving story about staff in Chad's Abeche - which Inner City Press covered, before DPI's eviction meant it was no longer notified of or allowed to cover UN Security Council trips. Here was from the UN Staff Day Parade of Nations. We'll have more on this. For weeks the UN had promoted its book event about New York City and the UN, featuring author Pamela Hanlon.

But when Inner City Press went and asked about the UN having brought cholera to Haiti and paid nothing, and whether Haitians in Brooklyn had been able to get any accountability from the UN, there was no answer.

A heckler in the audience said loudly that the question was not appropriate. Video here. So Inner City Press followed up on Ms. Hanlon's statement that the land under the UN is still US territory. If so, what of John Ashe selling diplomatic posts from inside his UN General Assembly President's office, and Inner City Press for covering the scandal being thrown out onto First Avenue by eight UN Security officers? Audio here. (NYPD told Inner City Press it has no jurisdiction to take criminal complaints, even for assault, for anything east of the First Avenue curb.)

That question wasn't answered, either, including by Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office for International Affairs.

Instead Maher Nasser, in charge of the UN Department of Public Information from April 1 until tomorrow, said “it's always about you” and ended the event, encouraging those present to buy books for signing. And so it goes at the UN.


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