UNITED NATIONS GATE, August 17 -- After having covered the UN since 2005 for Inner City Press, and pursued stories of UN under-performance from Sri Lanka to Darfur and Haiti to Yemen and Cameroon, at 4 pm on Friday August 17 I got a four page letter from Under Secretary General Alison Smale, formerly the New York Times' Berlin bureau chief.
The letter informed me, without a single opportunity to be heard and offer rebuttal, that “your accreditation is hereby withdrawn pursuant to the Guidelines.” Inner City Press had informed Smale, and Secretary General Antonio Guterres who is ultimately responsible for this, that Smale must recuse herself.
As part of its coverage of the UN in the past year I have heard from whistleblowers in Smale's Department of Public Information that she diverted funds intended for Swahiliprogramming to her avowed focused, getting better coverage for Guterres particularly on social media.
But Smale did not recuse herself, and Guterres who refused my polite question to him on July 20 why this censorship was taking place and why he had been so silent as Cameroon killed Anglophones in the North-West and South-West regions of the country, did not make her recuse. Nor did he recuse himself, despite my timely request that the President of the General Assembly, and not the obviously conflicted Guterres and Smale, take charge of any review deemed necessary.
What is most troubling about the UN's August 17 dis-accreditation letter is how vague it is, and inaccurate the few times it gets specific.
The UN claims that on 3 July 2018 I “attempted to gain unauthorized access to a locked area of the UN.” But as I reported at the the time, and my Periscope video subsequently used by Fox News and The UK Independentshows, I was in the UN's much traveled Vienna Cafe. (Guterres' Assistant Secretary General Christian Saunders, whose involvement in aUN procurement scandal I previously reported, was also there: he oversaw the assault and the next day told me he doesn't like my articles.)
On July 3 I was staking out -- that is, standing outside of - the UN Budget Committee meetings. In fact, I had been informed of the meetings by UN personnel and diplomats had invited me down in order to tell me, as a reported, what was going on.
Ironically it was with Cameroon's Ambassador Tommo Monthe that I had just spoken when UN Lieutenant Ronald E. Dobbins and another officer who had still been identified by the UN approached me from behind, grabbed and twisted my arm, grabbed and damaged my laptop computer and tore my shirt. I recoiled and said, loudly, “I am a journalist, covering a meeting!” To Smale, this is incivility, enough to be permanently banned from the UN for.
Next, at the top of page 3 of the letter, Smale runs through a litany of supposed violations without providing any details, nor acknowledging that other correspondents more friendly to Guterres and her are allowed to do these things routinely. Smale pillories my “presence on UN premises outside authorized time periods as stipulated in the Guidelines.”
But those Guidelines, even as selectively quoted by Smale at the top of page 2 of her letter, make clear that I was permitted past 7 pm to cover an advised meeting - such as the July 3 UN Budget Committee meeting considering a $6.7 billion expenditure of public funds or the June 22 event in the UN General Assembly lobby featuring a speech in which Guterres bragged about fasting in Mali.
On June 22, not mentioned in Smale's August 17 letter but alleged as a “repeat violation” by Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq in a July 5 article, the same Lieutenant Dobbins and four Emergency Response Unit officers he summoned and then told not to give their names, pushed me out of the UN even as other non resident correspondents were allowed to remain in. There is video, here.
Days before that first roughing up of Inner City Press by UN Security but clearly green-lighted from higher up, Guterres' lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a person who tried to speak with him on my behalf to get the UN to stop requiring me to have a minder or escort as they have since February 2016 that things would be getting worse for me. It seems clearDujarric knew about or had already ordered the physical targeting of Inner City Press any time after 7 pm, even if an advised meeting or Guterres speech was taking place.
But a telling omission in Smale's letter is that as recently as June 26 dozens of non resident correspondents were allowed to stay in the UN past 7 pm drinking with Guterres on the North Lawn, ghoulishly in the name of press freedom with Smale. The event was not advised in the UN Media Alert, and I know that UN Security could not have been given a list of approved non resident correspondents since my timely RSVP to cover the event which had yet another canned Guterres speech was never answered. I was told by the organizer of that pro-Guterres event that the RSVP was ignored because it was open to all correspondents. Again, there is video in my contemporaneous coverage.Maybe this is why Smale and Guterres - and Dujarric - say livestreaming is a problem to be solved with Security violence and banning.
Since as Smale says there are thousands of those, many of whom write few articles and ask fewer questions, there is no way UN Security had a list of non resident correspondent to NOT beat up after 7 pm. They just decided / were told to start roughing up critical Inner City Press, sometime between June 22 until the July 3 assault which I reported on July 4 to the NYPD and was told, while a report was taken, that the UN asserts immunity. (That's the problem.)
Next Smale asserts I have been in locations not authorized by the Guidelines - without giving a single example. This does not comply with due process, to put it mildly. One wonder how it took the UN 45 days to write this (except for the desire to slow-walk things to try to prevent Inner City Press from covering the UN General Assembly in September). Even at censorship, today's UN is incompetent, particularly given the public money it requests and spends (that $6.7 billion again).
It is the “live broadcasts” -- reporting and commentary subject to protection under the First Amendment of the US Constitution and UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 - that Smale next takes issue with. She cites, again without any example, profanities and derogatory assertions.
But Guterres' Spokesman Stephane Dujarric repeatedly used profanity, specifically the F-word, in the briefing room including telling me, “Matthew that's a stupid f*cking question.” Even more dispositively a former president of the UN Correspondents Association, Giampaoli Pioli who had ordered me to remove from the Internet an article about him arranging a UN screening for the Sri Lanka Ambassador of a film denying his country's war crimes after having had the Ambassador as his paying tenant in one of his many Manhattan apartment - the reason I quit UNCA - once called me an “assh*le” at the UN Security Council stakeout, during an advised meeting.
It happened at the Security Council stakeout so it was recorded, audio here. But DPI did nothing about this profanity and “derogatory assertion” by the president of UNCA, become their UN Censorship Alliance. So there is no rule, less enough of one to ban me for life.
There is another vague reference to refusing to obey UN Security officers, impossible to respond to and troubling in light of the video of Lt Dobbins and his colleague pulling me, and tearing my shirt. Is one not allowed to say, “I am a journalist?” What would Smale do?
What Smale does NOT do is public financial disclosure. As Inner City Press first reported, and asked Dujarric to explain without getting any answer, Smale is not listed in Guterres' online roster of public financial disclosures, unlike for example official Natalia Gherman, who was awarded her UN post after Smale.
Not that Guterres has a good record on transparency. As Inner City Press has asked him without response, Guterres has yet to even order a UN audit of the China Energy Fund Committee / Patrick Ho - President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa UN bribery case that Inner City Press, alone from (then?) among the UN press corps, has been covering at the Federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, including with the Smale, Dujarric and Guterres reviled Periscope livestream.
Guterres did not act on Inner City Press' 25 June 2018 letter to alleging nepotism in the handing of the management of the Security Council's website to the photographer husband of the chief of staff of the Department of Political Affairs, nor on Inner City Press now ironic request that he provide protect to the Press being target. It was Guterres, it turns out, who was and is behind the targeting.
Most Orwellian, halfway through page 3 Smale attempts to use questions I have had to ask at the UN Delegates Entrance since she and Guterres banned me from the UN Security Council stakeout from July 3 on. At that new stakeout, I have interviewed among others outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Prince Zeid (whose abuse of whistleblowers I have also reported) and Permanent Representatives such as those from Kazakhstan and even Burundi. So which unnamed member states is Smale claiming have complained to her and Guterres: Cameroon? The United Kingdom? France? Morocco?
In fact, one of the three specific (now in retrospect devious) warning letter Smale cites involved the Moroccan delegation falsely claiming I could not take photographs or record and live-stream at the UN Security Council stakeout. But the Guidelines permit that.
The DPI staff who passed along the Morocco complaint were orally apologetic but that's now for naught. The Kafkaesque file was being built. The last of the complaints is the most self-serving: Smale's own deputy Maher Nasser, in an abuse of position that I complained to Smale in writing about prior to her “ruling,” directed to a letter to me claiming I could not record him in an approved stakeout area. It's that he was embarrassed by what he said, and he since then has blocked me on Twitter, another strange practice for a UN official but once that Dujarric himself has engaged in.
Smale claimed in a July 19 response to the DC-based whistleblower protection group Government Accountability Project that Dujarric and the four other spokespeople his office would be answering my e-mailed question in respect to what she called my “journalistic endeavour.” This was repeated today to BuzzFeed's Hayes Brown, here. But they answer less than 20% of the questions - one a day, the easiest of the five I ask - and I am being banned from covering the UN Security Council, whose mishandling ofYemen and Myanmar, and non-handling or worse of Cameroon I have a right to cover and Inner City Press' audience have a right to follow online including in live-streams. Most pressingly, Guterres and Smale want to block me from covering member states in the UN General Assembly high level week in late September, the deadline for accreditation for which is September. A conflicted Secretariat has no right to ban a well-read media from covering this diplomatic dance of nations. This corruption and censorship must be reversed, and acted on, before September 5.
The final sin cited by Smale is that when Inner City Press was unjustly evicted from its long time shared office, for having asserted a right to cover events in the UN Press Briefing Room unless some official paper said it was closed - and nevertheless leaving as soon as requested by a UN Security officer - it did not move its years of files out fast enough. In fact, I was advised at that time that UN DPI's and the Office of the Secretary General's lawless crusade against Inner City Press might still be turned around; from February 19 until April 16, 2016 I did not enter or “occupy” the office, even when I could have. It was the UN which ultimately dumped my files out onto First Avenue then, as Guterres and Smale have now dumped me, with conflicts of interest and without due process.
Can this pseudo-legal permanent censorship order stand? I will do everything in my power that the answer is no, and that I can return to covering the UN the same as pro-Guterres state media from countries like Morocco and the Gulf, and corporate media which only want easy quotes and no critique. If freedom of the press means anything, this will not stand.
We'll have more on this. Watch this site.