Saturday, April 2, 2016

UN Says It Talks A Lot About Free Press, As Moves to Evict Inner City Press

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 29 -- On February 19 without once speaking to Inner City Press, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Under Secretary General for Public Information, Spain's Cristina Gallach, ordered the Press to leave the UN, which it has covered for ten years, in two hours.

  On March 28, Ban's Under Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Portugal's Miguel de Serpa Soares, issued a second eviction threat, repeating, either without checking or caring, the lie that Inner City Press has full access. His false letter is now online here; it was also cc-ed to Stephen Mathias, Antigoni Axenidou and Jay Pozenel, along with USG Cristina Gallach.

On March 29, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about the letter and its claims, video here,UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: the very thing we were just discussing, South-South News and funding of the UN Correspondents Association is what I was covering on 29 January for which I'm being thrown out.  But, my question has to do with a letter from Miguel de Serpa Soares, who seems to say that there's absolutely no right including a due process right or even a freedom of speech non-retaliation right to accreditation and/or resident accreditation status in the UN.  And I know it's a topic that was raised to you when you were in DPI [Department of Public Information] by the New York Civil Liberties Union when they asked, what are the standards?  So, given that Mr [Serpa Soares] he's a lawyer.  He's the head of the UN OLA.  He's Ban Ki-moon's personal lawyer.  Is it the case that there are, in fact, no rights at all for journalists in the UN, that “privileges” and abilities to report can be stripped without any review, without any right to be heard?  And if so, how is that consistent with your policies…

Spokesman:  I think, Matthew, if you'll allow me then to violate your client privilege, because you're obviously quoting from a letter that was sent to your lawyer.

Inner City Press:  I'm waiving it right now because I find it so laughable that I'm asking you…

Spokesman:  Ok.  I'm glad… well, I'm glad you do.

Inner City Press:  Please.

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General and the UN system stand for freedom of the press.  I think we spend quite a lot of time here… I happily spend a lot of time here answering… answering questions.  There is no right to an office.  Offices here are provided free of charge to UN resident correspondents.  Some may have issues with the media guidelines as they are, but they are what they are.  Anybody who accepts a pass signs on to them, agrees to them, whether they're resident correspondents or non-resident correspondents.  If there is maybe a need to review those guidelines, that is fine, but they are not secret guidelines.  They are what they are.  I think we spent a lot of time and effort, as we should, in answering questions from the media and in defending freedom of the press, as I am doing this very minute.

Inner City Press:  The guidelines that you quote don't have any reference to interpreter's booth.  I've looked… I've read them a number of times…

Spokesman:  Matthew.

Inner City Press: … and that's what's being cited. This is the question that I want to ask you since you say… you do speak a lot about freedom of the press.  But, it seems extraordinary that an attempt to cover a meeting related to an expanding UN corruption scandal can result in… in the ejection… please.

Spokesman:  You and I… you and I…

Inner City Press:  I love it.  I love it.

Spokesman:  You and I have different interpretations.

Correspondent:  No, and here's the question I want to ask you.  You seem to say… I'm not asking about an office.  Did you hear me say the word "office"?  I said, since resident correspondent accreditation status alone gets you through the turnstile on the second floor so that, if you don't have it, you cannot cover meetings in ECOSOC, Trusteeship…

Spokesman:  Matthew, you have…

Inner City Press:  It is… I'm asking you…

Spokesman:  You have the access that you have.

Inner City Press:  No, it's not…

Spokesman:  We stand for the freedom of the press and…

Inner City Press:  You do not.  You do not.

Spokesman:  …accommodate journalists.  And, Dan, if you'd like to come up and answer questions, I'd be happy, otherwise, we are done.

Inner City Press:  What is the recourse for retaliation for journalists?  Where do they file in the UN system since you're immune as Mr. de Serpa says, immune from any legal process?

 This was not answered.

 In fact, on March 21 Inner City Press was Banned from covering the UN Security Council (video here, online days before de Serpa Soares' false claim); on March 24, at Gallach's demand, Inner City Press was told it had to have a minder to remain at the Council stakeout. Some "free access."

  So who IS this Miguel de Serpa Soares? We'll have more - but as previously reportedly, Ban gave Gallach the USG of DPI job, despite her having managed nor more than seven staff before absurdly being put atop 700 at UN DPI. Ladsous of France, atop DPKO? He is a global laughingstock. Now it's Serpa Soares turn.

  Ban Ki-moon's UN is corrupt. And we're being diplomatic for now putting it that way.

  All this took place as Inner City Press covered the South South News and South South Awards bribery scandals implicating both Ban and Gallach, as well as having former President of the UN General Assembly John Ashe, Macau-based businessman Ng Lap Seng and South South News VP Vivian Wang under house arrest. (Frank Lorenzo, Sheri Yan and others have pleaded guilty.)

On March 28, Inner City Press asked Ban's lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, as garbled by his UN transcript:

Inner City Press: the letter that I received that put me out on the street and has kept me from my office has, quotes a thing about civility and professionalism.  And while I was at the stakeout on 24 March, I was approached by the President of the UN Correspondents Association who’s here in the [inaudible] and was told four times, “You are an A-hole.”  This was said loudly.  This was said on the microphone. What I don’t understand is, if I was thrown out for trying to cover a meeting in this room, how is it professional or civil to come to the stakeout and to say, “You are an A-hole” four times?  And what’s going to be done about it?

Spokesman:  Matthew.

Inner Cit Press:  Question.

Spokesman:  I think — let me just, and this and hopefully the last I will say about it today.  What happened to you with your pass had to do with events that took place here.  Obviously, you and I don’t agree on what actually happened.  I’m not one to judge people on their use of language.

Inner City Press:  Do you understand…

Spokesman:  I…


Inner City Press:  This booth was used in your absence on 23 March.  Two individuals were in the interpreter’s booth…

Spokesman:  It…


Inner City Press:  How is this…


Spokesman:  It was — first of all, from what I understand, they weren’t hiding, and it was a mistake.

Inner City Press:  I wasn’t hiding either.  I never… I was never asked if I was hiding.


Spokesman:  I’m done.

 As some point, the UN's refusal to transcribe is itself censorship.

  Since February 19, any basis other than retaliation for Gallach's ouster order has fallen apart. The meeting in the UN Press Briefing Room that Inner City Press openly live-streamed on Periscope was nowhere listed as closed. The UN either has no rule against use of the interpreters' booth in the UN Press Briefing Room, or as seen on March 23, does not enforce it. 

  But today's UN system has no self-correcting mechanism.

  On March 28, Ban's top lawyer Miguel de Serpa Soares belated responded to two separate lawyer's letters not with little more than another threat - to physically remove and presumably search Inner City Press' eight years of files - and an unqualified assertion of the UN's immunity like he asserts for 10,000 people killed by the UN in Haiti. This is Ban's UN.

 Earlier on March 28, Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric didn't even bother to explain why Inner City Press was being thrown out for "incivility" while the head of the UN Correspondents Association Giampaolo Pioli was allowed to four time loudly call Inner City Press "an asshole" at the UN Security Council stakeout on March 24.

  That the use of an interpreters' booth was Gallach's supposed reason for the ouster - not mentioned in de Serpa Soares letter - was undercut when Dujarric's Deputy Farhan Haq did nothing when two non-interpreters used an interpretation booth in the same room. Dujarric called that a "mistake" and cut off Inner City Press' question.

 Today's UN is corrupt and lawless: it does not even deign to explain or hide its double standards or retaliation. Nor its censorship: under Gallach's order, DPI personnel order Inner City Press to leave the UN Security Council stakeout on March 24 so as to not fully cover the meeting on Western Sahara.

  Spain, whose highest UN official Gallach is, took the position that the Council should not speak out against Morocco throwing out the MINURSO mission (a larger version of Gallach's ouster of Inner City Press). Gallach is censoring covering of Western Sahara, or trying assign minders as it is being reported.

  This is Ban Ki-moon's "Communications."

 On March 26 Inner City Press raised to Ban's senior advisers, and Ban's account, the UNCA anonymous troll social media accounts that Gallach and Dujarric at a minimum follow. One of Ban's closest officials, instead of acting on the issues raised, replied, "I have passed on your latest email to those assigned to deal with this issue."

 Tellingly the troll accounts immediately stopped -- have THEY been assigned to "deal with this issue"? Or, at a minimum, goes Gallach know exactly who they are, and how to reach them?

 (One of the two troll accounts revived itself more than 24 hours later, claiming now to a collective - UNCA board? - and to know know who the other, more active, account belongs to. We'll have more on this.)

  What triggered de Serpa Soares belated response? On March 23, when de Serpa Soares was on one of his countless coffee runs with the same colleague to the Delegates' Lounge, Inner City Press politely asked him if he'd gotten a February 29 letter. He said no; Inner City Press offered him a courtesy hard copy, which he refused.

Ban and his evicter in chief, de Serpa Soares, UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

He and Gallach were then re-emailed the February 29 letter and another one in preparation, citing applicable US law. Even though this status was explained, the idea of accountability is apparently anathema to today's UN. Hence his March 28 renewed threat: Ban Ki-moon as evicter. Watch this site.

   Even when UN officials senior to Gallach are shown what she has done - and that it is further hurting the UN's reputation for example in northern Sri Lanka, among some concerned with Yemen, and Burundi, and Western Sahara Press coverage of which Gallach has hindered, they do nothing.

Some, it has become clear, are happy Inner City Press' reporting has been hindered - that reporting in some cases is into their involvement in UN corruption.

Several senior UN officials close to Ban Ki-moon have not only like him been close with Ng Lap Seng's, Frank Lorenzo's and Vivian Wang's South South News (March 24 video here) - they were for example at the very founding of Sheri Yan's Global Sustainability Foundation, one of two groups that even Ban has seen the need to (self) audit.

  But as the scandal expands, one telling response has been to simply refer Inner City Press and its evidence back to Gallach herself.

As Inner City Press has replied, the concerns it has been raising include (1) conflict of interest by USG Gallach, (2) the seeming use of the punitive powers of her office to retaliate against Inner City Press' reporting, (3) her and her affiliates' misrepresentation of Inner City Press' restricted access to report, (4) a total lack of due process by her office and (5) lack of any UN process of appeal from her decision.

In this context, merely forwarding complaints and proof to USG Gallach is, clearly, not enough. In fact, it further shows just now broken today's UN is.

Gallach's letter cited an incident on January 29.

  In that “incident,” Inner City Press openly sought to cover a meeting in the UN Press Briefing Room of an organization which had taken money from South South News, whose honorary president Frank Lorenzo has pleaded guilty to bribery charges as his vice president Vivian Wang has been indicted and funder Ng Lap Seng -- given a photo op with Ban Ki-moon by UNCA - remains under house arrest.

To seek to cover such a meeting is journalism.

  By contrast, UNCA chief Giampaolo Pioli, who lobbied Gallach to throw Inner City Press out, came to the UN Security Council stakeout on Western Sahara and loudly and repeatedly called Inner City Press “an asshole.” Audio here.Gallach's February 19 letter citing some rule about civility. Will she enforce it on Pioli?

   After the Western Sahara meeting, Gallach tweeted to a questioner from New Zealand who asked, “why did you remove the accreditation of Inner City Press?” Gallach replied, photo here, that “I did not! ICP is fully accredited! Can report from UN.?His privilege to use office was taken out, due to misbehavior.” Photo of Gallach's tweet here.

  This is false. On March 21, Inner City Press was unable to reach the stakeout of the UN Security Council on Western Sahara as it had been able, until Gallach's decision of February 19. And on March 25, the moment Security Council president Gaspar Martins finished reading out the elements to the press - and Inner City Press but not the swearing UNCA boss Pioli asked him a question -- UN DPI staff told Inner City Press to leave the stakeout, even as diplomats remain.

  Inner City Press said that to report on the meeting, it need to speak to the diplomats, many of whom has in the past spoken with in on background. But now with its Gallach-reduced pass, DPI staff said Inner City Press required an “escort” or minder to remain on the second floor.

  What diplomat desiring to speak on background about Ban Ki-moon's questionable performance on Western Sahara would do so in view of a minder from Ban's Secretariat? It is FALSE that Inner City Press is fully accredited.

  Furthermore, the “misbehavior” repeatedly citing by Gallach illusory. UNCA should have have been trying to hold a “closed” meeting in the UN Press Briefing Room - even Francois Hollande could not do that - and the event was nowhere listed as closed. Inner City Press live tweeted and live streamed it openly, from the booth in the back to avoid the heckling of Pioli's gang.

  Dispositively, on March 23 UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq did nothing when two non interpreters were in the interpretation booth during the noon briefing. There is no clear rule, at least none that is enforced.

  But compared to this disagreement, isn't coming to the UN Security Council stakeout to loudly call another reporter “an asshole” misbehavior? Gallach's ruling must be reversed. Watch this site.

On March 24 as Inner City Press was staking out the UN Security Council meeting about Western Sahara and Morocco's ordering out of the UN Peacekeeping mission there, a figure rarely seen at the stakeout approached.

  Giampaolo Pioli the head of the UN Correspondents Association came over to where Inner City Press was typing and editing audio and video and said, “You're an asshole.”

   Moments later, Inner City Press now with its UN accreditation pass downgraded to Non-Resident Correspondent by UN Department of Public Information chief Cristina Gallach at the behest of Pioli went to ask UN Security not to lock the glass door to the Security Council before the Council's president spoke at the stakeout.

  As Inner City Press asked the guard not to lock the door to journalists, UNCA's Pioli again said, “You're an asshole. I'm telling you that you're an asshole. Quote me.” Audio here.

   What's behind this? How did a journalists club turn into a club against a journalist, and why? Beyond Pioli's financial relationship with Palitha Kohona, who as Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN Pioli unilaterally granted a "UN" screening of a war crimes denial film, there is for example the matter of South South News.

  South South News is depicted in the October 2015 criminal complaint against John Ashe, Ng Lap Seng, Frank Lorenzo and others as a vehicle for bribery, to the tune of $12 million.

  UNCA under Pioli took SSN's money, and gave its funding Ng Lap Sent a photo op with Ban Ki-moon. But Pioli's UNCA also gave South South News a "journalism award," and SSN in term featured videos of Pioli, here - and ofPioli's tenant Kohona, here.

SSN video at 0:29 features Lorenzo (guilty plea) and Wang (indicted)

   John Ashe's former spokesperson is a member of UNCA; a SSN anchor, too. These are among the reasons that Inner City Press sought -- facing retaliation - and seeks and will continue to seek to cover this corrupted organization, as part of the wider and expanding UN corruption scandal. Watch this site.

Pioli and his rental of one of his apartments to an accused war criminal, involved in Sri Lanka's notorious White Flag killings, then screening of his tenant's film, played a key role.

But there have been many enablers, among the Gulf and Western media on UNCA's board; there are been others to the very top of the UN who have benefited from and left unchecked this war on investigative journalism.

This as Pioli's UNCA took money from now-indicted Ng Lap Seng's South South News, gave SSN a journalism award and Ng a photo op with Ban Ki-moon. After after the indictments, Pioli was selling half-tables with Ban for $6,000 on Wall Street in December 2015. That Ban's UN tries to shield this from coverage is telling.

  To try to oust or wipe out coverage of failure in Sri Lanka and more recently Burundi and Yemen to name but two is, of course, convenient, as well as stopping or hindering aggressive coverage of the expanding UN scandal in this waning year.

  Inner City Press spoke and speaks out when Reuters took stories without credit, even claimed "exclusives" for things earlier published by Inner City Press. Reuters bureau chief made an anti-Press filing with the UN's Stephane Dujarric. Then when it was leaked, he wrote as Reuters to Google to get it blocked from Search, ostensibly as copyrighted. "His" reporter has been worse, in ways.

   Margaret Besheer of Voice of America, who after being exposed in 2012 and her bosses saying in writing theirattempt to oust Inner City Press for her was wrong -- is at it again.  She was standing pre-positioned at the UN gate on February 19, 2016 when Inner City Press was physically thrown out. These are tax dollars at work, violating the First Amendment.

  There are more - former AFP, the current ones hardly better - and others who just follow along. Now their "leader" Pioli has come to the stakeout, not to report anything - he rarely does - but to loudly call a critic, who actually writes stories, an "asshole." And not one of them did anything. At the UN the journalists' club has become a club against a journalist.

Photo of Pioli at UNCA Ball, credit UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
  Inner City Press replied that it believed and believes Pioli is corrupt, that he took rent money from Palitha Kohona then unilaterally granted Kohona's request as Sri Lanka's Ambassador for an UNCA / “UN” screening of his government's war crimes denial film, “Lies Agreed To.” And that Pioli after demanding censorship of Inner City Press' coverage has used UNCA and now DPI to try to throw Inner City Press out of the UN, just as Pioli first threatened.

Ban with Pioli, who told Inner City Press, "You are an asshole." Credit UN Photo/Evan Schneider

  Another UNCA board member -- Inner City Press quit its elected position on that board in 2012, saying openly that Pioli was corrupt, now in taking money from indicted Ng Lap Seng's South South News and granting him a photo op with Ban Ki-moon -- said such language should not be used at the stakeout.

  But it was Pioli who approached Inner City Press, which hasn't willingly spoke with Pioli in more than a year.

  So it is for this person that Cristina Gallach first ordered Inner City Press out of the UN on two hours notice on February 19 and on whom she has since leaned in trying to defend her February 19 decision, which was reached without once speaking with Inner City Press.

Ban shakes with Cristina Gallach, who threw ICP out of UN on Feb 19, 2016 on 2 hours notice. Credit UN Photo

  Her rationale was that Inner City Press secretly filmed a closed meeting, but that doesn't stand up: the meeting was nowhere listed as closed, and Inner City Press openly live-streamed and even live Tweeted it: hardly secret.

  So the fallback argument was that since Inner City Press covered the UNCA event in the UN Press Briefing Room from one of the glassed-in interpreters' booths, in order to avoid just such a response as Pioli's “asshole” on March 24, it had violated some as-yet unproduced rule about not being in an interpreters booth.

  But on March 23 Inner City Press observed and filmed two non-interpreters in the “other” interpreters booth in the UN Press Briefing Room while UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq read out statements and did NOTHING about the use of the interpreters booth.

  On March 24, Inner City Press asked Haq about it, from the UN Transcript here.

 On his way out of the UN Press Briefing Room, Haq said to Inner City Press, “Liar.” This is the atmosphere created, when DPI and the Spokesperson's office have allowed a character like Pioli, angry at coverage of his financial dealings with Sri Lanka's ambassador, to essentially run the asylum.

   It seems clear now that there must be a complete reversal of  Gallach's February 19 order, based on false facts (closed meeting, “secret” filming), a dubious rule and at the behest of an UNCA boss who barely writes articles, seeks to control UN office space and comes to the UN Security Council stakeout to call a critic an asshole. We'll have more on this.