Thursday, April 23, 2009

UN Pitches Ban vs. Ahmadinejad on One-Way TV Screen, No Questions

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at UN

UNITED NATIONS, April 20 -- The UN's priorities were shown this Monday morning when a one-way video feed of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon denouncing Iranian president Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel preempted the UN's noon press briefing. Questions would not be taken, then, on the fire over the weekend in the UN compound in Darfur, more than 100 dead in South Sudan after the UN failed to increase patrols, a workers' strike against UNRWA in Jordan, nor the carnage in Sri Lanka.

A UN spokesperson explained that it would not be possible to be prepared on these other issues. Anyway, the spokesperson continued, reporters at the UN had expressed a desire to see the Ban briefing in Geneva, even if they could not ask any questions. This is the story today, the message was: Ban's outrage at Iran, for its comments on Israel.

What explains this seemingly disproportionate reaction? Some guessed it was Ban's attempt to put “deadbeat-gate” behind him, where he said the U.S. is the biggest deadbeat. Others said it was to make up for criticizing the U.S. and others for not attending the Durban review conference in Geneva (those countries were now saying, we told you so). Some journalists joked about throwing shoes or sandals at the one-way TV screen. “It's a new low,” said one wag. We will live-blog the proceedings, such as they are, in this space.

Update of 12:19 p.m. -- US Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wollff came to the stakeout, primed to speak about Durban, and praised Ban's written statement. One of Ban's spokespeople watched from the riser: the sound was low because the UN Secretariat has allowed chaos in its UN TV service.

Update of 12:32 p.m. -- even with no stakeout going on, there are a total of two journalists in the briefing room, watching Ban answer two questions in Geneva, does he understand now why some countries didn't come? Ban's office said that “the reporters in New York” wanted it this way, no noon briefing, just the Ban presser. But this does not appear to be true.

Update of 12:40 p.m. -- In UN briefing room in New York, still only two journalists in the room, plus Inner City Press intermittently. Even the person from the President of the General Assembly's office has left. On screen, Reuters in Geneva is asking, is this a difficult day for the UN? That Ahmadinejad said what he said right after meeting with Ban... Ban calls it totally unacceptable, “destructive.” And some NGOs in the gallery, he says, along with some member states were not behaving in accordance with the rules and regulations. Hopes for disciplinary measures by conference president. What?

Update of 12:47 p.m. -- as Navi Pillay says she went to sleep on Friday telling herself, “job well done,” even the two other journalists have left. Pillay thanks Susan Rice for calling to cancel, digs at European countries which didn't even call. Fiasco on both sides of the Atlantic. In New York, all other news preempted by the UN for an empty room. Bad instincts?

Update of 12:59 p.m. -- speaking of bad instincts, running out of the empty briefing room while Ban speaks on screen, Council president Heller's stakeout is already over, and the UN's Lynn Pascoe has, reporters say, canceled his stakeout about Fiji. Thus, the UN has said nothing today expect Ban (and Pillay) vs. Ahmadinejad. But Inner City Press is told that, seeing the briefing room empty, UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe came back and read out a statement on camera. No questions, just one-way communication. Oh but one question that Inner City Press asked up in the spokesperson's office is answered, sort of, by e-mail:

Subj: Your question on the UNRWA strike
From: unspokesperson-donotreply
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 4/20/2009 12:20:38 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

UNRWA says it is negotiating possible salary increases with its striking employees. But UNRWA also says its high budget deficit makes it hard to meet all their demands immediately. For any further information, please contact UNRWA.

And that was the question taken at, or in place of, the noon briefing. [Thankfully, Amb. Heller stopped in the hall and gave Inner City Press an answer on Sri Lanka that will be reported shortly.] Click here for a review of last week's performance, two misstatement and a run-around. 10-4, - 30 -

And see,