Friday, July 30, 2010

UN Against the Media, Bloggers and the New, Story of a Footnote from Ban's No Whistleblower Zone

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- The UN, which preaches about disseminating information and even hires pro-UN bloggers, has resisted including the word “bloggers” in its Media Accreditation Guidelines, which it has said it will put online on July 30. Check here.

This despite the fact that the head of the UN's Department of Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka, who oversees the Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU), has a pro-UN (and ostensibly pro press freedom) blog on the Huffington Post.

The previous and prospective chief of MALU told Inner City Press, “the UN does not accredit bloggers," and reiterated this after a New York Times piece identifying Inner City Press as the first blog at the UN.

At that time, in the NYT piece, the UN “said that guidelines for bloggers are a work in progress. The goal is to balance concerns about openness, security and professional standards with growing interest from online journalists.”

Yet even now, the UN refuses to put even the word “blogger” in its accreditation guidelines. The distinction seems to be between pro-UN blogs or those owned and controlled by large corporations and those with critical independence.

This year, the UN Correspondents Association executive board, to which this reporter was elected, twice after debate and votes submitted language to MALU that they should explicitly include “bloggers” the Accreditation Guidelines, for which the UN wanted UNCA's concurrence.

But following the first submission of UNCA suggestions, the UN accepted every proposal except on bloggers. After a second UNCA submission -- this time addressing concerns by referring to “journalists who are bloggers” -- the UN still demurred.

Mr. Akasaka's outgoing deputy Eric Falt responded with what he called the “final” version, to be put online the next day, which only in a footnote mentions that online media includes blogs and vlogs. The reference is marginalized in a footnote, and there is no reference to bloggers as such. Why not?

At a DPI event about Social Media held earlier this year in the UN's North Lawn building, chaired by Mr. Akasaka, UN staffers praised their own blogging and Tweeting of UN positions. Staff said they were paid to monitor Wikipedia to remove “inaccurate” information about UN officials.

Inner City Press asked, if someone posted for example that Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar was too close with regimes in Myanmar or Sri Lanka, would that be considered opinion or “inaccurate”? There was no answer -- presumably, the UN's social media team is directed to remove such free speech. And now, no reference to “bloggers.”

There is a larger context here. The UN has used the opportunity of its Capital Master Plan rehabilitiation to move the press corps from offices with walls, from which calls could be made and whistleblowers could visit, to a series of cubicles directly under the Department of Management.

As exclusively exposed by Inner City Press, in what the UN dismissively called a "blog post," the cubicles initially came with security cameras above them, making it the whistleblower free zone. Still everything can be heard, and there are no improvements on the horizon.

Because of the previous and prospective MALU chief's statement that “the UN doesn't accredit bloggers,” this reporter pressed that the UNCA proposal(s) be stuck to, and that the word “blogger” be included. Inner City Press asked these questions:

UNCA's Executive Board has twice unanimous proposed that the word “blogger” be included in the Accreditation Guidelines. After UN DPI's initial response to merely refer to bloggers in a side email from the interim supervisor of MALU, the UNCA Board met for more than an hour and counter proposed compromise language, “including those who are bloggers.”

On July 27, the USG of DPI told me the bloggers would be in the guidelines.

But the text provided on July 29, with a less than one day deadline, does not include the word bloggers, but rather a footnote about “blogs or vlogs.”

Given that the previous and perhaps future supervisor of MALU has said “the UN does not accredit bloggers,” if that is not the position, why is the word “blogger” not included in the Guidelines? Please -- an answer.

But rather than an answer, a vote was called for. This reporter voted no. UNCA response reflected that the vote

was not unanimous.. We interpret it to mean that the UN has officially recognized that blogger journalists that fulfill MALU’s criteria have the right to a UN accreditation and will not be discriminated against simply because they are bloggers.”

But will that “understanding” be in the guidelines? Unanswered is the question of whether UNCA's consent should have required a vote of the full membership, and the larger question: why is the UN so scared of independent bloggers?

The current UN Spokesman, on camera at one of the UN's noon briefing, used the podium to call Inner City Press'“blog” characterizing the murder of UN staff member Louis Maxwell by Afghan National forces as having been covered up as “outrageous.”

Due to outmoded UN distinctions between print and photo journalists, which make little sense for new media, Inner City Press has several times been blocked from filming or photographing events at the UN, and was most recentlyordered to leave a photo op with the foreign minister of Rwanda while the UN's own in-house media, UN Photo, was allowed to stay. Click here from that story.

The UN demanded the deletion from an Inner City Press "blog post" of a photograph of asbestos falling in areas frequented by staff, even women with babies in strollers, click here for that.

UN's Ban and DPI's Akasaka, "bloggers" not shown

The outgoing overseer of MALU, Eric Falt, is known to run morning meetings at 9:30 a.m. in the UN's “luggage building” at which messaging, and countering this publication by name, are discussed. It seems to some that this UN is comfortable with UN controlled bloggers, but not independent journalists.

The new UN guidelines, apparently pushed by Falt before he leaves for a UNESCO job in Paris, have as of this writing not yet gone online. Ironically, while setting artificial deadlines for the policy statement now excluding the word “blogger,” the MALU site is entirely outmoded, with a “Step by Step Media Guide” referring to areas of the Secretariat building which have been closed for more than six months now.

Rather than keep the information up to date to help journalists to cover the UN, the focus has been on rushing a vote on a guidelines that's outdated even before it goes online. Only at the UN. Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN's footnote not mentioning "bloggers" but merely that "bona fide" online media includes blogs and vlogs -- with no definitely of "bona fide" (good faith) or any rationale for the UN to define such, is supposed to go onlinehere - what THAT site...

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