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UN Censorship on Cameroon Attributable to UN DPI's Smale, Set To Spin SG in CAR

By Matthew Russell Lee, Periscope; Video

UNITED NATIONS, October 17 – Senior UN officials claim they care about and want coverage of crisis like those in Cameroon, then block Press coverage while taking public money to pursue their largely European interests. More than a month ago Inner City Press wrote to UN Department of Public Information chief Alison Smale explaining how the eviction and restrictions imposed by her predecessor Cristina Gallach would result in censorship and a reduction in coverage during the General Assembly Week. There was no response - and has been none since, such that Inner City Press was hindered on October 17 as it covered (Southern) Cameroonians raising questions bout Secretary General Antonio Guterres' praise of Paul Biya, UN cover up of his abuses prospectively during the Central Africa trip Smale wants to spin. And Guterres and his team know, his office has confirmed receipt of this, the Inner City Press has asked the UN "Spokesman, as is relevant here, about the UN Department of Public Information, about human rights violations in Cameroon unacted on by the UN, and about the UN's lack of transparency as identified not only by the Press but also the UN's own Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. The answers were UNsatisfactory, and UN DPI has been entirely unresponsive... Other correspondents could walk around freely; I had to get an escort and minder. Meanwhile my long-time work space sat, for yet another day, unused by the Egyptian state media DPI has tried to assign it to, which rarely comes in and never asks questions. I have repeatedly written to the new head of DPI, without any response at all. I was told that since the former USG evicted Inner City Press, reversal would have to await the new USG. I waited, I wrote, I waited - nothing. Nothing at all. Nor now have there been answers about DPI's planned hiring of outside consultants, and if these would be used in the planned “good-news” coverage of the upcoming trip to the Central African Republic. These are all questions that should be answered, and the Press asking about this, and about Cameroon, Yemen, Myanmar, Western Sahara, Kenya and the UN “irregularities” exposed in the Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe case should not be targeted and treated differently than other correspondents here. It is a conflict of interest for DPI, admittedly under Smale promoting your image, to control and limit the access of the critical independent press. There should have been rules - the meeting I covered 20 months ago was nowhere listed as closed, I got no hearing or appeal - and it should all now be belatedly reversed, Inner City Press restored to its work space in S-303 and resident correspondent returned." 24 hours, the clock continues to tick. From the very first day of the GA week, an event about migration no less, Inner City Press was arbitrarily banned. And on the Friday of the Week, Smale's DPI minders told Inner City Press it could not, as other less active correspondents could, speak to participants in the UN's (politicized) meeting about the humanitarian situation, just as it was also restricted in its coverage of Cameroon and other issues. This was raised to Smale the next day, when UN officials and diplomats were working (although many of Smale's "resident correspondents" like Egypt's Akhbar al Yom, Pakistan's Daily Dawn and others didn't even come in). But again from Smale, no reforms, no response. Perhaps this was due to the elections in her former beat, Germany. But these issues are her responsibility; she is being paid for this. Here's our September 23 Smale-mail: "Dear Under Secretary General Smale: This follows up on the request / petition I sent you earlier this month, before the now-concluding UN General Assembly High Level Week. My unjustifiable lack of resident correspondent status, which I had asked be restored before the High Level Week, has resulted for example in me being barred from speaking with attendees outside yesterday's Yemen humanitarian meeting. Resident Correspondents, including those who rarely come in and never ask questions, like Akhbar al Yom, were given access to passes to the 1B level, without escorts. For me, whose resident correspondent accreditation was taken without a hearing or appeal for pursuing the UN bribery story by covering a meeting in the UN Press Briefing Room, two separate escorts or minders were required to access the Yemen meeting. While inside the meeting I was told I could stakeout / wait outside the meeting and speak to participants as they left, my DPI minders told me I could not speak with anyone, even diplomats who wanted to speak. I reiterate my formal request to be restored to my longtime shared office S303 (I am willing to help rarely present Akhbar al Yom to relocate to the bullpen or wherever else), and to have my resident correspondent accreditation restored, early this coming week. I can provide any further information, by email, phone or in person. (By contrast, the only event Egypt state media Akhbar al Yom “covered” was the SG - Sisi bilateral, as UNCA “pool;” when I asked DPI's MALU for basic information such as who attended or was observed at the bilat, none was provided.) For your information during this High Level Week I put questions to the foreign minister of Libya, the UN's Libya envoy, the UK minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt (on Yemen), the head of UNRWA, the head of UNHCR (on Burundi), SRSG Louise Arbour (on Libya) and, as you saw, the EC minister and Deputy Secretary General. More could be said, but this should be enough. To continue to restrict my movements in the UN more than other journalist, to keep me out of my long time office such that I can barely and sometimes not download and edit video of these Q&A, in favor of a no-show, no-question state media is UNjustifiable. It should be reversed today, or early next week. Today Saturday I am writing this while covering the Secretary General's bilateral meetings on the 27th floor, if you are in the UN and need any further information. If you don't mind, please confirm receipt of this email." Not even that. Now the UN Security Council won't even hold a single Yemen meeting in September, despite its members' professions of concern. When a Yemen meeting during the UN General Assembly week was held at 8 am on September 22, new UN Relief Chief Mark Lowcock introduced as speakers the foreign ministers of Sweden and the Netherlands, representatives of Japan and the UAE, and the UN's dubious envoy Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed. While billed as a humanitarian meeting, the UAE spoke without irony about outside interference. (Yemen's representative spoke in Arabic; Inner City Press streamed Periscope video). To get to the meeting, held in UN Conference Room 5, Inner City Press unlike other no-show reporters like Egypt's Akhbar al Yom was required to get a UN escort or minder, who told Inner City Press it could not ask questions or speak with anyone. This despite UN OCHA telling Inner City Press it could wait outside and speak to people as they left. So the UN's retaliatory eviction of Inner City Press for covering UN corruption now results in it, unlike the Saudi and pro-Saudi media in the meeting, being unable to speak to the participants. This is today's UN - it has been directly raised to the new head of DPI, Alison Smale, without response as she focuses on the election on her previous beat, Germany. Now this, from the UNSC: "The briefing and consultation on Yemen is postponed for next month and we'll have no meeting scheduled tomorrow afternoon." Pathetic. As it this: while Canada joins The Netherlands at the UN in Geneva in calling for an investigation of possible war crimes in Yemen including the Saudi-led coalition's killing of civilians, Canada has continued a $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference at the UN on September 21, Inner City Press went early, intending to ask him to explain this incongruity or seeming hypocrisy. Trudeau's spokesman announced that the questioners had been “pre-determined,” but did not explain how. So in a lull after what the spokesman called the last question - would Trudeau be a mediator on Venezuela - Inner City Press asked about Canadian arms sales to Saudi while calling for a probe. At first Trudeau said he was happy to answer the question. Then he said no, he would not reward “bad behavior,” and instead reached out for question in French about day care. (Inner City Press notes that pre-determining questioners is bad behavior. Apparently the CBC journalist who was given the first question agreed to it; the organization only the day before sent an Egyptian state media correspondent as the lone “pooler” in Secretary General Antonio Guterres' meeting with General Sisi.) Eearlier on September 21 when UK minister Alistair Burt came in front of the UN Security Council to speak about accountability for Daesh in Iraq, Inner City Press deferred to a timely question about the referendum in Kurdistan. Then during  lull - identical to that in which it put its question to Trudeau - Inner City Press asked Burt about his quote, about accountability for the bombing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition with UK bombs, that "Our view is that it is for the Coalition itself, in the first instance, to conduct such investigations. They have the best insight into their own military procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations.” Inner City Press asked how he can say this, given that the Saudis have investigated less than five percent of the killings. Video here. Burt's answer focused on the peace process - what peace process? At least Burt answered, and did not like Trudeau try to call merely asking the question in a lull "bad behavior" - we'll have more on this.


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