Amid threatening anonymous telephone calls triggered by a proceeding at the UN against Inner City Press, on June 7 a Sri Lankan journalist asked Inner City Press, "there is wide spread allegation that you have been funded by pro Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE lobby groups during the last few years. How do you react to that allegation?"
As Inner City Press was, in part for self-protection, seeking to end the public witch hunt against it by offering a balanced mutual apology, it could not on June 7 answer as directly as now. Instead the Sri Lankan journalist was told, and reported
"I reject these funding allegations which are made by Sinhalese extremists, including in the Sri Lankan government, against anyone who raises the issue of the killing of civilians in May 2009. I am troubled that some in UN SG Ban Ki-moon’s administration, who feel Inner City Press’ coverage has made Ban look bad, including for accepting General Shavendra Silva as an adviser, are known to have echoed or amplified these Sinhalese extremist claims."
What does this last line mean? Well, advisers close to Ban Ki-moon now and before he became Secretary General have said, as a defense, that Inner City Press is funded by the LTTE.
Other UN officials have told Inner City Press that that the allegation of LTTE funding has been bandied around in decision making meetings.
This is the UN itself, at the highest level, fanning anti press freedom flames.
On June 3 the largest English langauge newspaper in Sri Lanka reported, "if the allegations against Lee are proven, the UN headquarters will be made out of bounds for him. If the harassment charges are proven he could face a jail term of up to six years." See, http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2012/06/03/new11.asp
After Ban’s Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit three times said it would renew Inner City Press accreditation to cover the UN, including in this context, on June 4 it reverse course and said no. What has the response to this been?
A week ago, Inner City Press wrote to Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the chief editors of Reuters (Stephen Adler) and Bloomberg (Matthew Winkler) and then UNESCO.
Inner City Press raised to these and others the fact that Inner City Press is being targeted by pro government Sri Lanka media, with stories now using information from the Sri Lankan Mission led by Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona and citing his deputy General Shavendra Silva. The stories also quote a letter and e-mails from the UN Correspondents Association, whose president Giampaolo Pioli accepted money as rent from Kohona and then refused to recuse himself.
So far, despite an inquiry with HRW’s Richard Dicker outside a press conference by outgoing International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, there has been no response at all from Roth and HRW, nor from Adler or Reuters, nor Winkler or Bloomberg.
Inner City Press wrote to the editor of another UNCA officer, and the only response was to be hauled again in front of UNCA and berated for having dared write to the officer’s editor.
When shown virulent Sri Lanka government media attacks on Inner City Press, the UNCA officer said "I don’t care about that." The Reuters bureau chief turned over one such article handed to him, before Inner City Press was told it was summarily "suspended" from UNCA.
CPJ responded in writing that it is (too) busy; at a recent "protection of journalists" event sponsored by the French Mission at the UN, Inner City Press asked CPJ’s director about the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth, without answer.
The French mission has used "its" representative on UNCA, Tim Witcher of Agence France Presse, to push and vote to expel Inner City Press. Now, do they smell blood?
Others have said they will look into it, and still others will be asked. Luis Moreno Ocampo, when he spotted one of the Sri Lanka articles, took an interest and opined why "they want you out." What he will do is not yet known.
A journalist who daily covers not only Sri Lanka but also Sudan, Syria, Western Sahara, the Congo and UN corruption shouldn’t need to go to such lengths to be allowed to continue to cover the UN. But this is Ban Ki-moon’s UN, seen through the fun house mirror of the UNCA "Pioli’s Playhouse."