Wednesday, June 3, 2009

UN Targets WSJ, Fox and Inner City Press, According to Minutes, Google De-Listing Mulled

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 2 -- The day after after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave a speech about freedom of the press, minutes show that his Spokesperson and three of his Under Secretaries General met about "reporting by the press, particularly Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Inner City Press," at which it was proposed to write "cease and desist" and "letters before action" and, "with regard to Inner City Press... complaining to Google News."

   At the UN noon briefing on June 2, UN Spokesperson Michele Montas confirmed her participation, while arguing that she doesn't have to account for her participating in such meetings. Video here, from Minute 14:49 to 18:41.

   The minutes, prepared by Under Secretary General Angela Kane’s Department of Management, recite that Ms. Kane met on May 8 with "Mr. Akasaka, Ms. Montas, Ms. O’Brien [the UN’s top lawyer and] Mr. Meyers" [sic, chief speechwriter and Director of Communications Michael Meyer] to devise a strategy to counter negative coverage of the UN by the three above-named media outlets.

  "We propose writing to professional journalistic bodies which regulate the journalists concerned as well as letters to the editors with copies to their companies' legal counsel," the minutes state.

  "With regard to Inner City Press, we should also consider complaining to Google News (they host Inner City Press)," the minutes continue.

  While extraordinary, this would not be without precedent. In February 2008, after a similar complaint, Inner City Press was temporarily removed from Google News.

  The delisting, and the UN, were criticized by the Government Accountability Project, a Washington-DC whistleblower protection organization, and were covered by Fox News.

   Since January 2009, Inner City Press has not only coveredwhistleblower issues within the UN Medical Service and but has persistently questioned the UN’s and Ban Ki-moon’s inaction as thousands of civilians were killed in Sri Lanka, including the UN’s double standards and withholding of satellite photos and its estimates of civilian casualties. 

   This is precisely the watchdog role that Ban Ki-moon’s May 7 press freedom speech praised the press and specifically bloggers for. Ban noted that "some 45 percent of all media workers who have been jailed worldwide are bloggers....I urge all governments to respect the rights of these citizen journalists."

   But the next day, his highest officials met in secret to devise a strategy to deliver legal threats to three media organizations, and to constructively censor one of them, by seeking to delist (or "de-host") Inner City Press from Google News.

UN's Ban and Montas: one praises bloggers, the other... not so much

   The section of the minutes on these senior UN officials' anti-Press meeting of May 8 is preceded by a discussion of thesuspension of the UN's National Competitive Exam (click here for Inner City Press' May 1 article), and is followed by a section on "business continuity training" in light of the swine flu / H1N1. Click here for Inner City Press' May 5 article on Angela Kane's space grab in the Capital Master Planhere for Inner City Press article on "the wrath of Kane" on May 7, the day before she convened the anti-Press meeting.

   Ironically, in light of Kane's purported basis for attacking the Press, that it does not quickly enough publish her response, she has stated in writing to Inner City Press that she has no time to answer questions, and to ask them all at the UN's noon briefing. There, more often than not, questions are left unanswered, or not allowed at all, ostensibly due to time constraints. 

   Now, as Inner City Press exclusively reported on May 30, Kane's department is seeking to charge the Press $23,000 to maintain office space in the UN which has previously been given without charge, to facilitate coverage.

    Inner City Press requested comment on theafternoon of June 1 from Ms. Kane, Ms. Montas, Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Akasaka, the head of the UN Department of Public Information.

   This was the e-mail to Ms. Montas to which she did not reply for 20 hours, but rather prepared her statement for the June 2 noon briefing. Similar requests for comment were sent to other listed participants in the May 8 meeting, including USG of DPI Kiyotaka Akasaka, USG for Management Angela Kane (with additional questions), and USG for Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien, none of whom responded at least for the following 24 hours.

Subj: Hi, request on deadline for comment on May 8 meeting and Press issues, thanks
To: Michele Montas [at], Kiyo Akasaka [at]
From: Inner City Press
Sent: 6/1/2009 4 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

Mr. Akasaka and Ms. Montas --

Hi. I am writing a story about a May 8 meeting in which documents indicate you both were involved, regarding “reporting by the press, particularly Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Inner City Press,” at which it was proposed to write “cease and desist” and “letters before action” and, “with regard to Inner City Press… complaining to Google News.”

On deadline -- am resending this to ensure receipt and response -- could you please either deny despite the documents your participation in such a meeting, or to explain how the above is consistent with press freedom, Article 19 and, here, the First Amendment -- and also, for you [Ms. Montas], your previous career as a journalist.

I'd also like a comment, in light of the above, on the UN’s previous denials of involvement in a complaining to Google News and getting Inner City Press temporarily delisted. See,,2933,331106,00.html


  I appreciated and learned from the S-G's recent trip to Sri Lanka, but was troubled to be urgently informed of the above upon return. Also, the proposed $23,000 charge for media wanting / needing similar office space in the Capital Master Plan, if you have any comment on or insight into that. 

Thank you in advance, on deadline,

Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press

   For 20 hours after these requests for comment or denial were submitted, no responses were received. Given the UN's stated concern of Inner City Press not waiting to include UN responses (which often come late if at all), Inner City Press held off running this story until receiving confirmation.

  The following day, June 2, Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas at the noon briefing, and she responded with what appeared to be a prepared statement. Why she did not email this response, to avoid taking up time in the noon briefing, is not clear. Other reporters opined that Ms. Montas wanted to give a "public tongue lashing." Whether that is an appropriate use by the UN of its noon briefing is also not clear. 

  Ms. Montas began by saying, "I don't have to account to you for meetings I participate in," adding that "senior advisors" to Ban Ki-moon can and apparently do have such meetings all the time. We will pursue this. Video here, from Minute 14:49. Inner City Press asked if her, Ms. Kane's and apparently the UN's complaints have to do with Inner City Press' coverage of the UN's role in the carnage in Sri Lanka. We will continue on this. Watch this site.

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