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UN Says and Shows It Won't Cover Stories Countries Don't Like, Critics Targeted

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, July 1 -- The UN runs its own News Service, its own Video and Radio operations. The chief of these divisions, Ahmad Fawzi, was asked on July 1 what the UN does on the story if "a country regards it as not a good story."

    "We don't do it," Mr. Fawzi. The audience at the UN-TV showcase, mostly comprised of UN staff members, laughed. Inner City Press followed up, asking if the UN would cover news events that trigger criticism of the UN, like the slaughters in Rwanda or Srebrenica.

   Fawzi replied that the UN commissioned a report on the failures of its member states and peacekeeping operation in Srebrenica. He added, "Are we going to produce a video about it? I don't know."

    Inner City Press has previously interviewed Mr. Fawzi's colleague Susan Farkas, now the head of UN TV and Radio and present at the July 1 screening, who told the Press, "I find it astonishing that you think there's a story in the fact that we don't investigate the UN... The UN pays us. The UN pays us to produce a program which promotes the issues that the UN cares about."

    Thus, the first of the videos shown on July 1 concerned children left behind in Moldova as their parents migrate for jobs. The second concerned the genocide in Rwanda, but merely mentioned without explaining that prior to the upsurge in killing, nearly all UN personnel left.

   It certainly did not mention the UN Development Program staffer who used UN equipment to round up and target Tutsis to be killed. That is not the only story, but it is part of the story. And a stoytelling that is precluded from the beginning from including all pertinent facts cannot be called independent.

    Inner City Press asked Fawzi about the UN News Service, which churns out relentlessly pro-UN stories, ranging from Ban Ki-moon's popularity to the UN's successes in the Congo. Appearing to take the question to be about the UN's press release service, Fawzi said "we cover what happens in the building [but] it is not gloss, it is not promotional, it tells what goes on in the House."

   But UN News Service covers nearly every statement by UN agency, never quotes a critic or even raises a question. It is not unlike the state news agencies of some member countries. And any member state, it appears, can get a story removed from the Service. A story on Nagorno Karabakh, for example, fell under criticism and was quietly taken down. So too a story about Sri Lanka from the affiliated -- but ostensibly even more independent -- UN humanitarian Relief Web news service.

   While in the previous interview Ms. Farkas went on to ask, "Do you work for the Heritage Foundation," on July 1 Fawzi said, "there are others whose job it is to look at us critically and we accept that with a very open mind and an open heart."

   It is not clear what "we" he was referring to. Consider a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated to the 435 members of the House of Representatives earlier this week, the text of which is below.

In UN-TV, Fawzi (at right) monitors Ban Ki-moon's image

"Angered by past and continuing media reports of corruption, mismanagement and inaction at the United Nations, the UN is again seeking to cover up evidence and stifle freedom of the press.

Meeting on May 8 about 'reporting by the press,' high level UN officials discussed sending threatening letters to several press agencies and other bodies, as well as complaining to Google News about a small, independent news agency that has uncovered numerous UN scandals. Last year, a similar complaint resulted in that agency's temporary removal from Google News. In response to a question about that meeting, the Secretary General's spokeswoman furiously retorted, 'I don't have to account to you for meetings I participate in.'

The UN's Department of Management is also reportedly pushing to obstruct press coverage, seeking to charge media outlets $23,000 to maintain office space, and to move journalists covering the UN into open, un-walled offices -- deterring whistleblowers from coming forth and preventing oversight.

These UN efforts to restrict press freedom and oversight directly contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognized that 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression... and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' Once again, the UN is actually undermining the principles on which it was founded."

    The May 8 meeting, involving Under Secretaries General Angela Kane (Management), Kiyo Akasaka (Public Information -- the boss of both Mr. Fawzi and Ms. Farkas) and Patricia O'Brien (Legal Affairs), as well as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's speech writer Michael Meyer and Spokesperson Michele Montas, was memorialized in a memo from Ms. Kane to Ban.

    Inner City Press was shown the memo, wrote and asked Ban's spokeswoman Michele Montas about it by email, along with the three USGs, none of whom has yet to explain how their participation is consistent not only with the First Amendment, which they say does not apply, but even to the cited Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  While it has previously been claimed to Inner City Press that the UN would not, for example, even consider seeking to have a publication removed from Google News, Ms. Kane's memo shows different. What was that again, that "there are others whose job it is to look at us critically and we accept that with a very open mind and an open heart"?  Some do and some don't.

Footnote: the "Dear Colleague" letter circulated on Capitol Hill states that the UN is "seeking to charge media outlets $23,000 to maintain office space, and to move journalists covering the UN into open, un-walled offices -- deterring whistleblowers from coming forth and preventing oversight." Previously the Department of Public Information, where Mr. Fawzi works and which Mr. Akasaka heads, told UN journalist they would have the same walled free space during and after the fix-up on the UN building.

   Now that first $23,000 was demanded, then wall-less "whistlebelower free" zones have been offered, no explanation of the change has been offerer, nor how it is consistent with the statement that "there are others whose job it is to look at us critically and we accept that with a very open mind and an open heart." Watch this site.

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UN E-mails Allege Plot to Deny Ban a Second Term, Trick for Supachai at UNCTAD?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 -- Weeks after the filing with the UN investigative unit of emails showing a dirty tricks campaign by staffers of UN Conference on Trade and Development chief Supachai Panitchpakdi to get a second term, on Wednesday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon nevertheless announced he is supporting Supachai for another four years.

   Inner City Press, which exclusively reported the filing on June 22, asked Ban's spokesperson if Ban had considered its contents, and acknowledged any connection between them and the reappointment.

  The most explosive part of the emails, being published for the first time today by Inner City Press, are the arguments made in a May 8, 2009 email by Supachai's special adviser Kobsak Chutikul, that African and other countries were supporting Ivory Coast's former trade minister to deny Supachai from Thailand a second term in order to set a precedent to deny Ban Ki-moon a second term as Secretary General, due to "his perceived Western backers."

  Ban's spokesperson declined to comment on the filing, saying it is before the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. Video here from Minute 10:45. But senior Ban officials including Management chief Angela Kane and Ethics Officer Robert Benson have had the complaint since June 4. Meanwhile, the complainant has reportedly been demoted.

  Inner City Press asked Supachai if his UNCTAD has any whistleblower protection provisions. Yes we will follow those, Supachai answered. He claimed he "never campaigned," despite what the emails show his special adviser Kobsak Chutikul doing. He claimed he only "responded to some countries' remarks." Video here, from Minute 56:18.

  Given these statement, Inner City Press is today publishing some of the emails at issue, here.

UN's Ban and UNCTAD's Supachai: a snub of latter hurts former?
In a May 8, 2009 email marked Attachment E and headlined, "NAM Note Verbale," Chutikul wrote to three senior UNCTAD staff, including the subsequent complainant:

"Gentlemen, please see attached NAM Note Verbale sent out to all NAM Missions today. In light of this new development, it is the assessment of Thai and some ASEAN Ambassadors that the picture has become clear -- UNCTAD SG post has become an innocent bystander caught in the middle of a bigger struggle... The goal seems to be to insist on geographical rotation of posts, and undermining the practice / tradition of two continuous terms, with the real target being the UN SG (and his perceived western backers)."

  This argument raises the issue, for some interviewed by Inner City Press so far: did Ban have something of a conflict of interest in overriding (after working to override and change) African Group resistance and giving Supachai a second term? In fact, that too is laid out in Supachai's special adviser's Mach 8 e-mail, referring to telling Team Ban "things like 'you are the real target' or 'you are next.'"

  The emails point to several other improprieties, and it is extraordinary that Team Ban wants or wanted to ignore them and simply reappoint Supachai.

  Following Chutikul's"all hands on deck" e-mail, the press was on to get Ban to announce his referral of Supachai's renomination to the General Assembly. A Chinese staff member conferred with Beijing, and that asked for evidence of which way Ban was leaning (Attachment G). Another UNCTAD staffer questioned why the African Group targeted the second term of Supachai and not Frenchman Pascal Lamy at the World Trade Organization -- "because he's white"? The e-mails are replete with racial references.

  Now what will happen? Watch this site.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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