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As Voice of America Takes US Line on Somalia, Seeks Expulsions at UN, Evades FOIA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 – How closely is “Voice of America” controlled by the US government, of which it is an agency, subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Just after the US State Department formally recognized the government of Somalia, on February 9 Voice of America published a piece about the upcoming UN Security Council review of the mission it authorized there.

The piece is built nearly entirely around quotes from UN envoy Augustine Mahiga: he is even the “source” for the fact that the Security Council will consider Somalia this week.

  But the Council's February 14 session has been on the Council's public program of work since at least February 4.

Amazingly, the Voice of America Somalia piece did not mention in any way the Somali government's prosecution and conviction of journalist Abdiaziz Abdnur Ibrahim for having interviewed, and not even published about, a woman alleging gang rape by the Somali security forces.

This prosecution, and one year prison sentence, has been lambasted from all over, including for example by the EU's Catherine Ashton. But Voice of America, owned by the US government which just recognized the Somali government, does not mention the rape, prosecution or convictions.

Inner City Press, which Voice of America's Steve Redisch ask the UN to throw out of the UN in June 2012, has filed several Freedom of Information Act requests, most recently to understand and report on the relationship between VOA and the State Department, represented on the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees VOA and other state media.

   As reflected in a FOIA appeal which was just granted – that is, Inner City Press prevailed – on February 4, Voice of America's UN bureau chief Margaret Besheer was directed to conduct a search of her e-mail on the subject of the FOIA request, months ago.

   Why did she initially refuse to? Is it appropriate? What will be the repurcussions if the second search is in bad faith, as the first one was? Why would BBG expect anything else?

   Voice of America's initial FOIA response showed that it adopted a “do not answer Inner City Press” policy -- then used the re-submission of follow up questions as a basis to ask the UN to dis-accredit Inner City Press.

  Besheer's already released e-mails show how she used, or was used by, the UN Correspondents Association Executive Committee (particularly ongoing or Permanent members Reuters and Agence France Presse / AFP) to try to get Inner City Press thrown out of the UN.

  After inquiries from Capitol Hill, VOA officials David Ensor and Steve Redisch told the BBG members including, for example, Dana Perino that the request to dis-accredit Inner City Press has been inappropriate.

  But the request was never withdrawn. Besheer stepped off the UNCA Executive Committee, on which the officials are elected without competition, and nominated her successor.

  Another BBG affiliate gained representation on the UNCA Executive Committee. And Besheer apparently remains on the board of UNCA's own affiliate, the Dag Hammarskjold Fund for Journalism.

  A counterfeit social media account with which both of these are involved has tried to mock those journalists joining the new Free UN Coalition for Access , most recently a woman alleging sexual harassment, pervasively as “non-media activists.”

  But is Voice of America independent media? Does its UN bureau engage in actual journalism? There are answers we are awaiting from Washington.

   Now in New York as the UNCA-dominated move of the press corps back into the renovated UN headquarters building begins, it has emerged that Voice of America and the two other State Department affiliates all have different offices: a total of three.

  Meanwhile the UN put another country's wire service into a shared office, then a “photocopy closet.”

   The UN checked and learned that at the State Department in DC's Foggy Bottom, the three BBG affiliates are all in a single office.

   Why would they get better treatment at the UN then at their parent? Watch this site.

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