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At UN, Youth Talk Urges UNpaid Internships, FUNCA Raises Qs

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 -- Should internships at the UN be unpaid and therefore limited to the most affluent? Inner City Press on June 2 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric and he said, that's just the way the system works.

  Minutes later, Inner City Press asked this year's President of the Economic and Social Council, Austria's Martin Sajdik, who quickly said that in the Austrian Foreign Minister in the past interns weren't paid, but now they are, for this reason.

  After UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi spoke, encouraging work in UN Country Teams as well, Sajkik returned to clarify that he was NOT saying that the UN should pay its interns, that would require the Fifth (Budget) Committee of the UN General Assembly. Duly noted.

  Sajdik said that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon got applause for saying he is now tweeting. Great: what's his handle? Until now there is just his spokesperson's office, and an UNaffiliated account tweeting Ban's public schedule in often absurdly truncated, haiku-like style. What's Ban's handle?

 Procedurally, Dujarric gave the first question to Pam Falk of CBS as president of the old UN Correspondents Association, who urged more internships without mentioned paid or not. The Free UN Coalition for Access, in the interest of broadening access, is for paid internships and against mechanisms which limit access to the most affluent.

 An irony is that while UNCA board members have sought to get working journalists thrown out of the UN, Falk brought in an UNCA intern - and got him a "P" Press pass. This is the UN.

Back in May 2013 an internship in the UN was auctioned off, ultimately for $26,000, in a process extensively covered and questioned by Inner City Press. The UN said it was embarrassed by the auction or the "optics," and resisted Inner City Press' questions about the sale.

After Inner City Press asked several times about it, the description of the internship being auctioned was "amended," as the UN spokesman put it, to read:

"Take advantage of this exclusive opportunity for a 6-week internship in NYC working for Bruce Knotts, Chair of the UN-NGO Committee on Human Rights. You will gain inside knowledge of just how the UN really operates and have tremendous opportunities to make invaluable connections. This truly is the ultimate internship opportunity for any college or graduate student looking to get their foot in the door!"

The auction, on, said it was to benefit the RFK Young Leaders. Press inquiries to that entity and its parent, the RFK Center, did not yield any answers. But today, at least, we have a detailed answers about how such internships or grounds-passes work, from the Director of the UN Department of Public Information's Outreach Division, Maher Nasser.

  Inner City Press, along with another DPI question to which it is still awaiting the answer -- why was UNTV shut off while Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat was giving a speech on Monday morning -- asked Nasser, "I heard when you told DPI-NGO orientation that it makes the UN look bad, and that the UN is not obligated to let the person ('m. alam') who purchased the internship into the building. Is that the case? And you could keep me informed on this, when the purchased internship is to begin and what the UN / DPI does?"

  To his credit, Nasser provided Inner City Press with the most detailed UN response to date on the auctioned internship:

Subject: Question re the auctioned internship, thanks
From: Maher Nasser [at]
Date: Mon, May 20, 2013 at 2:38 PM
To: Matthew Russell Lee [at]

Hi Matthew, On the internship issue, as you know from the relevant website, this was for an internship with an NGO, not an internship at the UN. The optics of it and use of the UN's image implied otherwise, which is why I flagged it in the orientation with newly associated NGOs as something that hurts the UN and is not acceptable.

Every NGO associated with DPI is entitled to only six yearly passes, two of which are for youth representatives. The names to whom the passes are issued are provided by the president/head of each NGO. By providing the names, the NGO certifies that these names represent the NGO concerned. Up till now, we have had no reason not to grant a pass to people designated as representing an NGO. An old system of temporary passes issued throughout the year was discontinued by DPI several years ago.

With reference to the six names provided, and as I said above, this has not happened in the past, if we find out that someone had to pay or buy a slot on that list, we would take it up with the concerned NGO and depending on the feedback, not endorse that name for a pass.

In view of the case of the auctioned internship, we are preparing language to be added to the forms to be completed by DPI associated NGOs to avoid such possibilities in the future.

  So at a minimum, the "m. alam" on whose behalf $26,000 was bid for this internship might not be endorsed for a pass to actually enter the UN. Would they get a refund? And what do the UN-NGO Committee on Human Rights and the RFK Center have to say? Watch this site.

Footnote: While we await another division of DPI's promised answer to the Free UN Coalition for Access about how and why UNTV shut off during Saeb Erakat's speech, we note complaints received about the press corps move-back to the Secretariat building, particularly among broadcasters about special charges, special deals, special inquiries. The DPI official in question is aware of several of these complaints; watch this site.

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