Tuesday, February 26, 2008
If the UN Had A Media Censorship Program, Is This What It Would Look Like?
While most mainstream media outfits go light on coverage of the epic vistas of corruption, malfeasance and conflicts-of-interest that are the United Nations, one of the most dogged and prolific reporters in recent years on UN in-house doings and mis-doings has been Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press (referenced on this blog earlier this month for his terrific coverage of what might best be called the UN’s Financial Cover-Up Program). But as of last week, you won’t find Lee’s latest Inner-City Press articles by searching Google News. Following a complaint from an unnamed malcontent, Google removed Inner-City Press from its list of Google News sources. You can read about it in this dispatch from Fox News, or on Inner-City Press itself, in this article which Google evidently did not deem worthy of treating as news.
Much of the blame for this outrage has fallen on Google. But we should not forget the role in this story of the UN itself. UN officials — and in particular, the UN Development Program, on which Inner-City has broken many highly unflattering stories — have denied making any complaint to Google about Inner-City. Unless Google discloses the name of the confidential complainant, there may be no more chance of getting to bottom of this than there is of seeing the financial statements of all the husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters third cousins and business pals of UN senior officials who refuse to disclose even their own finances to the public.
Even so, the setting for this drama is the UN, where hundreds of millions of tax dollars are spent every year on “public information,” on “oversight,” on “investigations,” on “good governance” initiatives, on “media” programs… on promises and glossy brochures and pricey conferences all purporting to support free speech and integrity and UN reform and transparency. Despite all that, the main impetus for UN reform — if such we should call it — has been the result of media exposure of the sleaze behind the UN’s public facade.
In this, Inner-City Press in recent years has been playing an important role. Ban Ki-Moon (the Secretary-General who, despite his promises way back in January, 2007, has somehow failed for more than a year to get UN auditors into North Korea to check on site into the Cash-for-Kim scandal) should be thanking Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press for his astounding toil in the evidently doomed cause of trying to keep the UN honest.
Regardless of where that mysterious complaint to Google originated (let’s be generous and assume it came from a disgruntled internet cafe proprietor on Mars), it’s a disturbing scene in which one of the best-informed news outlets on backroom shennanigans at the UN — and not coincidentally, one of the most critical of these intrigues — has now been sidelined on the web. Not that the UN has an official, taxpayer-funded program to censor its critics. But if it did, this sure does seem an illuminating sample of what it would look like.