US and British media report on Voice of America attempt to ban investigative journalist from the U.N.
BBG Watch Commentary
“There is a disturbing new wrinkle in the troubling effort to oust Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press from the United Nations Correspondents Association, Brett D. Schaefer reports in National Review Online about an email written by the Voice of America Executive Editor Steve Redisch “officially requesting that Stephane Dujarric, head of the U.N.’s News &. Media Division, review Lee’s press accreditation.” Read full NRO article Time for the U.S. to Take a Stand for Press Freedom at the U.N. by Brett D. Schaefer.
The National Review Online article does not identify Steve Redisch by name, but Inner City Press posted Redisch’s email to the U.N. online and the NRO included the link. As the Voice of America’s Executive Editor, Steve Redisch functions as VOA’s chief operating officer. He supervises the daily operations and activities of VOA’s news, programs, language services, broadcast operations, and Internet departments. Redisch joined VOA a few years ago after a 20-year career with CNN.
In an email to Stephane Dujarric, the head of News & Media Division at the United Nations, Steve Redisch, the number two official at the US taxpayer-funded international broadcaster and a US government employee, has accused Mr. Lee of exhibiting disruptive and unprofessional conduct towards a VOA U.N. correspondent. Redisch asked Mr. Dujarric to “review Mr. Lee’s status as an accredited U.N. correspondent,” asking in effect to deny him U.N. press credentials.
In his letter to the U.N., VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch wrote that over the last several weeks, Mr. Lee has sent “frequent, unprofessional and borderline harassing email correspondence” to a VOA U.N. correspondent, to Redisch himself, and to other senior VOA management regarding the United Nations Correspondents Association’s internal business matters.
Steve Redisch acknowledged that although Mr. Lee has not physically threatened anyone, he stressed in his letter to the head of the U.N. News & Media Division that the VOA correspondent and other reporters are, “to be kind, uncomfortable with his behavior and feel that he lacks proper judgment and exhibits unprofessional conduct while at the U.N.”
This is how VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch phrased his call for revoking the investigative journalist’s press credentials at the U.N.:
“As an experienced journalist and leader of an organization dedicated to freedom of the press, it is difficult for me to make this request of you. But I would urge you to review Mr. Lee’s status as an accredited U.N. correspondent. I believe his behavior is impeding the freedom VOA’s correspondent and others need in order to report what they see and know from the United Nations.”
Steve Redisch concluded his email to Stephane Dujarric, the head of News & Media Division at the United Nations, by informing him that he was copying the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) legal counsel and the BBG’s Director of Security “so they are aware of the situation and its serious nature.”
Steve Redisch’s email to the U.N. along with the Inner City Press commentary is available online HERE – Voice of America Complaint to Get ICP Out of UN Violates 1st Amendment.
Inner City Press U.N. correspondent Matthew Russell Lee told BBG Watch:
[As]”a reporter who covers the United Nations,” [I] “was surprised last week to learn that Voice of America, through its executive editor Steve Redisch, had filed a request with the UN that my accreditation to cover the UN be reviewed — entirely based on things I have written.
This is strange, for a US government agency to seek to eject and essentially take away the livelihood of an American journalists who, among other things, uncovered corruption at the UN.”
A National Review commentator came to the defense of Matthew Russell Lee. The Voice of America, “this taxpayer-supported operation is urging the U.N. to rescind Lee’s accreditation. The U.S. mission should intervene to block this press-chilling maneuver,” Brett D. Schaefer wrote in National Review Online.
“On the U.N.’s World Press Freedom Day this past May, Secretary Hillary Clinton stated, “When a free media is under attack anywhere, all human rights are under attack everywhere.” It is very hard to square that firm support for freedom of the press with a U.S.-government-funded broadcaster like VOA seeking to oust an American journalist from the U.N. because he makes a reporter uncomfortable and doesn’t act as they would like him to act.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is an ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) which manages the Voice of America and other US taxpayer-funded broadcasters.
British journalist Roy Greensdale also reported on this story in his blog in The Guardian before VOA’s Steve Redisch sent his email requesting that Mr. Lee’s UN press credentials be “reviewed.” UN journalists threaten to expel reporter by Roy Greensdale.
Roy Greensdale cited an earlier article by Brett D. Schaefer, Good Journalism at the U.N.?, in National Review Online, in which Schaefer described Matthew Russell Lee’s journalistic work:
“Lee is also unusual in that he focuses on the inner workings of the U.N. — stories that are off the radar of larger news outlets. For instance, Lee broke the story about the discovery of 40 pounds of cocaine in a diplomatic pouch in the U.N. mailroom. He reported that Ibrahim Gambari, a special representative for Darfur of the African Union and the U.N., had greeted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir at a wedding even as Bashir stood indicted on charges of genocide, and he wrote of the opulent home Gambari built in Darfur at U.N. expense. He has exposed irregularities with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in North Korea, and his coverage of a UNDP-funded program of forced disarmament in Uganda led to that program’s suspension.
Other reporters readily admit that Lee’s reporting is valuable. “He may not always get it right, but Matthew covers the U.N. like no one else, often scooping much larger news organizations,” the New York Post’s Benny Avni says. “Matthew digs into how it works — and often into how it doesn’t.”
Claudia Rosett, journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, notes: ‘Matthew Russell Lee has broken a series of important stories over the years — stories that without his efforts might have gone unnoticed.'”
Sources have provided us with copies of emails sent by Matthew Russell Lee to VOA. They express concern that attempts to remove him from the association of UN correspondents are encouraging Sri Lankan extremists to issue threats against him. In his emails he is asking VOA officials to put a stop or suspend these proceedings against him, initiated by one of VOA correspondents along with some other reporters who seem to dislike Mr. Lee. We did not find any signs in these emails of harassing VOA staffers, especially since VOA executives are public officials and US citizens have a right to petition them. The behavior of these VOA executives in calling for Mr. Lee’s UN press credentials to be “reviewed,” to use their euphemism, is simply appalling.