Saturday, March 11, 2017

After UN Evicted Inner City Press, Metal Detectors to Question Forest Whitaker, Evo Morales

By Matthew Russell Lee, SeriesVideo III

UNITED NATIONS, March 10 –  After the UN's eviction of Inner City Press, without an office I was confined to the UN's bullpen. Some in there had taken or been assigned particular desk spaces. But now with a hype event coming up, the signing or resigning of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, the space I'd been using was taken over by an Italian television crew, another by something called “Eurovision.”

Another denizen of the bullpen, well settled-in with flowers, told me the Italian landlord and United Nations Correspondents Association boss Giampaolo Pioli had come through talking about installing a flat screen TV on the wall, as if he owned the place. Apparently he did, even though the UN's Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit insisted to me that the UN Correspondents Association played no role in who got office space. Yeah, right. I wrote about these things, questioning the UN's use of UNCA and its UN Censorship Alliance, while preparing what to ask during the hype Climate Change day.

   You had to come through the metal detectors at 8 am, and set up in an overflow room. I did, stopping to talk to a woman who translated or interpreted for Bolivia's Evo Morales. She suggested again questions about REDD, a carbon credit trading scheme, mentioning Air France and Madagascar. That grabbed me: what about the role and pollution of the air and shipping industries?

  I got the U.S.'s new climate negotiator to answer, something about an ICAO meeting later in the year, and leveraged that with NGOs who appeared in back to back press conferences. Four different answers to the same question: a piece that wrote itself. Needless to say I was cut out of the Hollande and then the Trudeau press conference. But I had material. I was still in the game.

  Forest Whitaker the actor came through, and I asked him about South Sudan and UN corruption. He declined the latter, and spoke about his friends trying to help in Juba. What about Malakal, I asked him, there the UN stood accused for the deaths of civilians. It's complicated, he said. That was enough for me.

Whitaker dodged the corruption, but down in the Vienna Cafe a Venezuelan guy, formerly of the mission and not on UN staff, chided me. An attack on south-south, he said, hurt the developing countries, the Group of 77 and China.  Corruption doesn't help you, I started to say. Then took a different tack.

 The point is, they were trying to convince people that the scandal is only about John Ashe, about Antigua and Barbuda. But it was Ban's Secretariat which sold documents; it was Ban's Department of Public Information under Cristina Gallach which let the bribers sponsor the UN's slavery memorial. The point, or my point, was to spread the fire from the G77 to the Secretariat, and through that to the First World Ban was serving. It was easier said than done.