Saturday, February 25, 2017

UNcensored: After UN Evicted Press, Fight Back on Colombia, Others Smashed by UN, Haider Rizvi

By Matthew Russell Lee, Part of SeriesVideo

UNITED NATIONS, February 22 – Even the day after getting thrown out of the UN again, the show had to go on. The upside was that there was sometimes UN news outside of the building. The downside is that it was often with the other insider scribes, and at close quarters.

  The German mission was having a briefing by its envoy to Colombia Tom Koenigs. I'd written about him soon after I arrive at the UN: he was with the UN Mission in Kosovo. Now around the table, on the German Mission's building's top floor, were the United Nations Correspondents Association insiders: Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols of Reuters, and Reuters retiree Evelyn Leopold who loudly whispered that I was an “ageist blogger.” My point was, why should she take the first question, for the UN Correspondents Association, if she wasn't writing any story with it?
  I asked Koenigs to compare the impunity provisions of the Colombia proposal with, for example, the lack of prosecutions in Sri Lanka. He dodged that one but gave me other numbers. Just before the briefing ended I gestured I had to leave. I didn't want to ride down in the elevator with this crowd.

 But out in the hall the elevator refused to arrive. Others started trickling out. I pulled out my phone to live tweet, or mock tweet. When the elevator came I went to the back corner of it and put my headphones on. I jogged back to the UN. Unlike the others, I had to go through the metal detector, and the line with NGOs and tourists.

  At the noon briefing, after asking question on Africa I asked Dujarric about the second ouster. From the UN's transcript, with all the “uhs” left in:

 I wanted to ask you, yesterday evening, I was working in the UN… in the lobby.  At 8:00 I was editing a video of, in fact, yesterday's noon briefing there, and I was told by security that I had to leave.  I was marched out and left the building.  And I wanted to know, since I've heard you and Ms. [Cristina] Gallach make various representations about this pass, what is the rules… what are the rules about that?  What… what… on what authority… I've seen other non-resident correspondents staying and working in the building past 8:00.  Why did this happen?

Spokesman:  Well, frankly, I think if you read the media accreditation liaison rules on non-resident correspondents, which you agreed to when you signed for the new pass, it's pretty clear that it says that non-resident correspondents are allowed in the building between 8 and 7 p.m. unless there's obviously… unless there is a meeting going on.  The fact is by 8:00 p.m. there were no more meetings going on.  I don't think it is our responsibility to find a place for you to work once the meetings are [not] going on.  You also have access to the bullpen, which may be more comfortable than a wooden bench in the lobby, but that's your decision.  The point is that you have access to this press conference room, to the stakeouts, but it's not my responsibility to find you a comfortable place to work after working hours.  [cross talk]

Question:  I'm not asking about comfort.  I'm asking about… I've been in the bullpen.  There have been people there since 8:00, so I feel like I'm being targeted by security based on my reporting

Spokesman:  The rules… [cross talk]  The rule's that non-resident correspondents are allowed to stay in the building after 7 p.m. if they are accompanied or sponsored by a resident correspondent.

  That is nowhere in the rule book - it only says that the non0resident pass works to ENTER only between 8 am and 7 pm. But when the spokesman will just make up rules, to justify whatever the guards do, it's like living in a little Burundi, with Ban Ki-moon as Pierre Nkurunziza. And Dujarric continued this.

I was invited to give a talk in Washington, not about the UN UNfortunately but about the previous thing I'd worked on, banks not lending in poor neighborhoods. I jumped at the chance to get away from days like a rat getting chased in and out of the UN. Maybe I could rekindle relations with some Congressional staffers too, who had helped me when Voice of America tried to get me out in 2012. I emailed them and headed to Penn Station.

 Looking out the window at the wastelands of New Jersey, instead of being caught in the moment to moment struggle with UN Security and UNCA scribes pushing my arm down when I Periscope, I started thinking of others to whom this has happened at the UN, or something like it.

  When I first got to the UN, bright eyed and almost in awe of the old media correspondents in the briefing room, the New York Times wrote a piece about me as the first blogger at the UN. But actually there was another guy, older, who wrote only online: Pincas Jawetz. He wrote about the environment, and ended up getting thrown out for failing some UN accreditation test of 60% of one's context being original.

  Whether even 10% of what Reuters churned out was original was not consider by the UN. The goal was to target Pincas, who has the temerity to ask if the crisis in Darfur wasn't caused by climate change. People laughed; they started to try to cut off his questions, as they did more recently with Ronda who asked about North Korea. There is a group think, and a hierarchy. Pincas was thrown out but he said it was OK with him. He still got into the UN whenever he was in New York, using an NGO badge. “You keep fighting them,” he told me.

  With Haider Rivzi, it was another story. He'd already been at the UN for years when I got there, writing about the indigenous and disarmament for a place called IPS. He would sometimes drink and telling people he loved them. Once when UNCA's Pioli was trying to talk me into taking an article about him off the Internet, Haider came into UNCA small temporary room and said, Why can't you two get along?

  Pioli's response was to pour Haider a large glass of vodka and sent him on his way. “That's all he wants,” Pioi told me. I stayed distracted as Pioli demanded censorship. Why give an alcoholic vodka?

   Finally Haider was stripped of his UN desk; the head of MALU at the time even called another media which was accrediting him and told them not to do it. So Haider became, like I was now, a non resident correspondent, trying to work at night in the corner. Guards harassed him, the UNCA big wigs mocked him. Finally he left New York to his native India, where word reached me he died. I cried; UNCA who had along with the UN killed him put his picture on their glassed-in bulletin board. It was disgusting. And now they were trying to Haider me. F*ck them, I said out loud on the train between Trenton and Philadelphia. I'm not going to go out like Pincas, much less Haider. These f*ckers must be fought. Then I turned on my computer, using Amtrak wi-fi to watch UN webcast. I tweeted mocking tweets, and tried to prepare for DC. Wasn't the US the biggest UN funder?