Colombo Telegraph –
At the UN some countries and state-funded media try to use access and even “ethics” as a club, with Sri Lanka the most recent example.Earlier this month a Sri Lankan government video was shown inside the UN in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium, described as a rebuttal the UK Channel 4 documentary “Killing Fields,” which despite a request was not shown inside the UN.
At the front after the September 6 screening sat Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona and the President of the UN Correspondents’ Association Giampaolo Pioli, who asked Kohona if the Tamil Tiger rebels were not akin to the Red Brigades in Pioli’s native Italy.
Whereas repeatedly throughout the summer proposals for movie screenings and briefings in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium were e-mailed for consideration and debate by members of UNCA’s executive committee, including this reporter, in the case of Kohona’s Sri Lanka Mission’s request to screen “Lies Agreed To,” this was not done. The decision was made by Pioli.
The screening in the UN was described as a big victory for Kohona and the Rajapaskas, in Sri Lanka’s “largest English language newspaper,”
But undisclosed at the time was that Pioli collected money as rent from Kohona for years. When this obvious conflict of interest was raised, the response was that the monetary relationship began when Kohona was a UN staff member. But in a sense that’s worse: how can a reporter ostensibly covering the UN objectively have a monetary relation with a senior UN official?
In all of New York, Pioli couldn’t find a tenant he didn’t purportedly cover as a journalist for “QUOTIDIANO NAZIONALE / LA NAZIONE / Il Resto del Carlino / IL GIORNO, Poligrafici Editoriale S.p.A.” among those he lists working for?
Now on September 21, after Pioli among other things came to Inner City Press (ICP) office demanding to know Inner City Press’ sources, UNCA sent out a vague statement purporting to tell journalists how to prepare news reports.
While it was raised that it is hardly the UN Correspondents’ Association’s job to tell journalists what to publish, it was not allowed to attach a dissent to this effect to the statement.
Pioli has sought to retroactively put things off the record, but said things that are public, like that, can of course be published. Going forward, Inner City Press has counter proposed a number of other ethical reminders, including:
UNCA reminds UN correspondents that disclosure of possible conflicts of interest, particularly the receipt of money whether present or past, is proper when making decisions that impact UNCA and its credibility.
Pioli has said it’s not the time to vote on that, even as he openly hands gifts to UN officials. Ethics? So it goes at the UN.
By Matthew Russell Lee