Monday, February 6, 2017

UNcensored: Ousted from the UN's Glass House For Investigative Reporting, Installment 1

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 6 – From bringing cholera to Haiti and lying about it to two ongoing bribery cases to dropping the Saudi-led Coalition from the United Nations' Children and Armed Conflict annex for bombing Yemen, how did the UN fall so far, so fast? This is one story, UNpacked. 

  "It was the fifth year of the Syria war. I'd covered each year of it from the United Nations, like Libya and Sri Lanka before that. This Friday afternoon, February 19, 2016, Turkey's threat to intervene in Syria was on the UN Security Council's agenda. 
  From my long time shared office, S-303, I watched on in-house EZTV the Security Council stakeout until the first Ambassadors showed up. I headed down the escalator with audio recorder and smart phone ready to live-stream their answers on Periscope. I had my questions ready.

   I leaned down to swipe my UN ID card on the turnstile -- but this time it didn't work. The UN Security officer on duty gestured for me to come over. “I'll let you through for now but you need to go talk to MALU. There was a guy here talking about you.”

  MALU was the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, from which I and other correspondents had to request a pass renewal each year. For me, there had already been several attempts to “review” my accreditation -- the phrase Voice of America used in its request -- or to condition re-accreditation on more friendly coverage of the UN.
   I thanked the officer and set up shop in the Security Council stakeout area. Once the Syria meeting began, I went up the steps and through the glass doors of MALU's office. The acting head of the office was in his cubicle. “Somehow my pass didn't work,” I told him. “I want to find out why.”

   “I'll look into it,” he said. "Meet me up at your office."

   When I went up the escalator I found in front of the door of my shared office five UN Security officers.

  “I have a letter for you,” one said, handing me an envelope. It had the UN seal on it.

   “I don't have time for this,” I told him.

   “You're not going to read it? I really think you should,” he said.

   I tore open the envelope and looked at the letter. It was signed by Cristina Gallach, the head of the UN Department of Public Information who'd taken over a year ago but with whom I'd almost never spoken, other than to question her about her links to the Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case.  Some lines jumped out at me: the incident of January 29... UN media accreditation guidelines... turn in your office key by five p.m...

   “This is bogus, “ I said.  I put the letter down on the floor and took a photo of it with my phone. “I'm going to tweet this b.s. letter out,” I said, hearing my own voice quiver. “This lady is out of her mind.”

   “So are you giving us the key?” an officer asked.

   “No,” I said. “I'm going back down to do my job, to cover the Syria meeting.”

  The first officer told a second one to follow me downstairs. From now on I would have a minder. And things would soon get worse.