Minutes of the ACANU General Assembly, March 19, 2014

Minutes of the ACANU General Assembly, March 19, 2014

ACANU president Gabriela Sotomayor started the General Assembly at 10:15, after the turnout surpassed the quorum of 27. A total of 39 members were eventually in attendance.

Before turning to assembly business, Gabriela took the opportunity to honour former member Yolanda Rojal, who passed away in February. Gabriela asked Bob Evans to give a speech in tribute to Yolanda, and he underlined how she commanded great respect in the international press corps, notably as a president of APES, and was rated as one of the top foreign correspondents of her homeland Ecuador. As Bob noted, Yolanda had had a stroke in 2011, but her condition had been improving, until a relapse earlier this year. Rather than holding a minute’s silence, the assembly at Gabriela’s request gave a round of applause for Yolanda, in line with Latin American tradition.

Gabriela then thanked the members of the outgoing committee for their work since the March 2013 election, before going on to deliver her annual report to members. She highlighted the fact that 13 new members had joined ACANU between March 2013 and the assembly, before presenting a summary of the association’s activities. She noted that ACANU had held a range of press breakfasts, including with the new Universal Rights Group think-tank, which brought together correspondents with ambassadors to the Human Rights Council. Thanks were due to committee member Nick Cumming-Bruce for having had the idea and having acted as the go-between for the event, she said. Other press breakfasts were held with Anders Johnsson, secretary-general of the IPU, and Guy Ryder, director-general of the ILO. Highlights of ACANU’s meetings with the press meanwhile included events with families of North Korea’s abductees, on the situation in Venezuela, with MSF’s director on the crises in Central African Republic and Syria, on clerical sexual abuse ahead of the Holy See’s hearing before the Committee on the Rights of the Child. and on the situation in Russia, with dissident Gary Kasparov, and in Cuba, with dissidents Yoani Sanchez and Elizardo Sanchez. In addition, the final nominees for the Martin Ennals Award were announced at an ACANU meeting with the press.

Turning to the ongoing issue of the long-overdue renovation of Press Room II, Gabriela gave members more details of the committee’s lunch on December 18 with Michael Møller, acting director general of UNOG. He had been very open to the idea, and had offered to analyse the committee’s proposal for a low-cost renewal of the furniture in the library and for basic renovation, as part of the ongoing Palais upgrade. He had also offered ACANU the use of an alternative room pending renovation works. Lisa Schlein said that it was more appropriate to continue using the unrenovated library, given that it reflected the state of the working space in Press Room II, which should be made clear to visitors. Kyra Nunez suggested transforming the computer room in Press Room I into a press meeting space, but some members countered that its small size would be a problem. John Zarocostas said that if offered the chance to have a briefing room with windows, unlike the library, ACANU should jump at the chance.

Treasurer Brij Khindaria then delivered his report. He said that ACANU ended the 2013 financial year with a small surplus of 208 CHF. He raised the issue of the ownership of the display frames used during the History as News exhibition under the previous committee. Ex-president Gunilla von Hall and former secretary Dan Pruzin underlined that Josep Bosch, owner of the newspaper collection displayed in the exhibition, has a five-year contractual right to use the frames for any exhibition that he cares to mount, provided that ACANU receives a mention and that any profits are handed over to ACANU. The subsequent use of the frames would be a matter for a future committee and/or general assembly, it was decided.

Jan Dirk Herbermann noted that the cost of the band at the ACANU year-end party in 2013 had risen to 3,000 CHF for two bands playing 4 1/2 hours of music and a sound technician (300 CHF) from 2,200 CHF in 2012 for one band playing 2 1/2 hours of music and a sound technician (250 CHF) and one band playing 45 minutes for free, and 2,000 CHF in 2011 for one band playing 2 1/2 hours of music and a sound technician, and, some years before that, 1,500 CHF, and asked whether it would not be more prudent to use recorded music at several events of previous years. But Jonathan Fowler said that he understood that 3,000 CHF was now roughly the going rate for a 3-hour live performance with a couple short breaks by a decent working band plus a sound technician in Geneva, and noted that the show at the 2013 party had lasted for longer than in the past, per the request of Gabriela, who wanted there to be live music from soon after the start of the party to midnight and beyond if people were still dancing. Brij noted that he had intended no criticism of the performance, thanking vice-president John Heilprin for the two groups’ 4 1/2-hour show in 2013, which John himself played throughout, and said that he simply had wanted to note the increase. (In 2012, John had played with a different band for free and hired another one to play the end-of-year party that also charged for a sound technician; in 2011, his band, still a different one, was hired to play the party and the band absorbed the cost of hiring a sound technician). Mohamed Cherif said that it was money well spent given that the year-end party is headline event for ACANU in international Geneva, as well as a unique and convivial social occasion. Committee member Isabel Saco agreed, saying it was an important profiling event. Bob said that such money seemed an entirely reasonable investment and that there was no reason to row back on a very nice tradition of live bands which had been reinstated. He noted that under ACANU’s late presidents Bob Kroon and Sandy Higgins, live bands had been the norm and had been highly appreciated. Bob also raised the issue of accepting cash donations for the party — as opposed to services such as food — from organisations. Dan Pruzin suggested that the issue of the party be discussed under the any other business section of the agenda.

The auditor, Kanaga Raja Ganesan, then delivered his report. He welcomed the fact that ACANU had heeded his and the treasurer’s past advice and had reduced its spending on social activities and office costs.

The three reports were then adopted formally by the assembly.

Gordon Martin then took the opportunity to thank Gabriela, the committee and all ACANU members for the reception held in his honour the previous week. He described it as one of the most memorable and emotional occasions of his 25 years in Geneva and indeed of his life. He said that he would look back on it as a precious memory.

The assembly then moved on to elect the new committee.

Gunilla and Agnès Pedrero volunteered to collect and count the votes, while Dan volunteered as vote-collector and result lister.

Mohamed nominated Gabriela for a second presidential term. She was seconded by Isabel. There were no other candidates. Gabriela was elected with 33 votes, while three members cast invalid ballots (one each for non-nominees Masaki Kondo and Ravi Kanth, and one blank).

Gabriela then announced that Masaki, currently reporting in Crimea, had written to submit his candidacy in absentia, as allowed under Article 19 of the ACANU statutes. Gabriela nominated him, and he was seconded by John Zarocostas. Masaki, the only candidate for the post, was elected with 35 votes, while one member cast a blank ballot.

In the vote for treasurer, Brij was the only candidate, nominated by Kyra and seconded by Mohamed. He received 30 votes, while six members cast invalid ballots (one blank, one for Dan and one for Ravi).

In the vote for secretary, Jennifer Freedman was nominated by Jonathan and seconded by Gabriela. She was the only candidate. She was elected with 35 votes, while one member cast a blank ballot.

Ahead of the voting for the committee members, Mohamed took the opportunity to appeal to members to be serious, and not to cast ballots for individuals who had not been nominated.

Nick Cumming-Bruce was nominated by Gabriela and Jonathan, and accepted. Kyra nominated Isabel, but she declined, saying she had been on the committee for a number of years and that it was time for a change. Jonathan was nominated by Jennifer and Gabriela, and accepted. Frédéric Durand was nominated by Gabriela and Jennifer, and accepted. Lisa Schlein was nominated by Isabel and Mohamed, and accepted. Murat Unlü was nominated by Gunilla and Mohamed, and accepted. Mohamed was then nominated by Marta Hurtado, but declined due to his impending retirement. Marta then nominated Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga, who declined, citing her existing commitments with APES. Ilya Dimitryachev also declined, after being nominated by John and Gabriela. Jan Dirk, nominated by Dan, declined, as did Silvana Bassetti, nominated by John. Ahmed Haroun also declined John’s nomination, and Stephanie Nebehay declined her nomination by Nick. Finally, Boris Engelson accepted his nomination from John and Ahmed.

Jonathan asked for a clarification about the rules governing committee membership by journalists who media is from the same country, given that Lisa and Nick’s media were both American (and that Masaki and Frédéric’s media are both Japanese). ACANU’s unofficial lawyer and statutemeister Dan checked, and said that the rules limited such members to two, meaning that the slate of candidates was fine.

In the voting, Jonathan and Frédéric each received 32 votes, Nick 30, Murat 28, Lisa 26, and Boris 14. Five invalid ballots were cast (one each for Silvana and Isabel, and three blanks). As a result, the new committee was made up of Jonathan, Frédric, Nick, Murat and Lisa, with Boris as a substitute member in the event that any of the previous five resigned.

The assembly then reappointed Raja as the auditor.

Dan took the opportunity to appeal to more members to get involved in the ACANU committee, saying that far too few lifted a finger, leaving it to a small, rotating pool of the usual suspects. He welcomed the decision of Frédéric, Murat, Lisa and Jennifer to get involved, helping to end the revolving-door feel. Pierre Simonitsch echoed his comments.

Turning to the any other business section of the agenda, Gabriela announced that the committee wished to make Gordon a membre d’honneur, a status accorded to longstanding, active journalists, whose annual subscription is waived as a result. Gordon’s nomination was approved unanimously. Paying tribute to him, Boris said that Gordon was the archetype of a reporter, as iconic as Tintin or his counterpart in Lucky Luke.

Gabriela then proposed to accord the same status to Raghavan Chakravarthi, a decision wholeheartedly seconded by John. John underlined that he had been a journalist since 1946, editor-in-chief of the Press Trust of India, and also president of the UN Correspondents’ Association in New York. Kyra and Bob added that he had also been a member of the ACANU committee at various points. The decision was make him a membre d’honneur was approved unanimously.

From the floor, Ahmed and Mohamed proposed that Gamil Ibrahim Atia also be declared a membre d’honneur, in recognition of his authority and influence as one of the first ever Arab journalists in the Palais press corps. Brij noted that the status should normally be accorded to active longstanding members of the press corps, and position reiterated by Gabriela. Ahmed countered that there was every reason to accord him the status, given his long record of activity in the Palais in the past. Dan verified the statutes, and said that it was indeed the practice that a membre d’honneur could be an individual with an outstanding record in the press corps, even if they were no longer a member of ACANU. As a result, the assembly voted unanimously to accord him the status.

Bob said that given the debate about honours, it was high time for ACANU to place a plaque under the photograph of Sandy Higgins in Press Room I, and to do the same for in memory of Bob Kroon. Gabriela said that the new committee would take up the issue.

John then raised the issue of access in covering Palais events. He said that in the past, audiovisual media had had easy access to UNTV’s facilities, but that it had become harder to book these and use the EBU uplink to file reports. This was a major concern, he said, because UNTV was developing a monopoly on coverage, and that costs were also growing for audiovisual ACANU members seeking to use uplinks. He said that the new committee should press UNIS to provide a Skype broadcast-quality facility, like that offered by UNHCR.

Boris said ACANU needed to try to broaden the scope of what is considered international Geneva, in order to have more coverage of the raft of interesting events that take place in locations such as CERN or the CICG. He also said that it was crucial to make the UN system aware that the limits of shallow rhetoric were all too frequently crossed, and that journalists wanted news, not meaningless and counter-productive communication. Bob countered that APES already had international Geneva covered, and recalled that a past proposal to merge the two associations had been rejected in the past precisely because of their different character, with ACANU having a UN focus. Boris noted that it was problematic for reporters working for Swiss media, because APES membership is restricted to the foreign press. He reiterated that the ACANU definition of international Geneva was too narrow. He also said that given the plethora of organisations in Geneva, more needed to be done to bring their leaders to address ACANU members. Boris also said that there were many events within the UN system about which the media were not systemically informed, despite their potential to generate interesting news.

Several members noted that the Palais press corps had been repeatedly sidelined by a number of UN agencies, with WHO director general Margaret Chan barely making an appearance, while UNAIDS failed to brief on its landmark report either in Geneva or New York. Catherine said that ACANU should make a habit of writing a letter of complaint every time there was a problem with an agency, with a copy to the UNOG director general. She said that Chan’s absence, notably, showed disrespect towards the Geneva press corps. Kyra said that ACANU should extend written invitations to the various agencies’ directors to come and brief the Palais press corps and make news, rather than offering reporters managed press events. Stephanie said that rather than focusing on issues such as widening the definition of international Geneva, ACANU should be fighting for bedrock issues such as access. She said that the treatment of the press, the blockage of access, and the refusal to allow audiovisual coverage of basic things such as arrivals, notably during the Iran talks, as well as the set-up during the Syria talks, had set a dangerous precedent. John echoed her comments.

Finally, Ahmed raised the issue of Billag payments, which were waived in the past for journalists. He said that ACANU should press Swiss authorities to allow members not to pay the fees, given that TV and radio are an essential professional tool. Bob noted that APES was the normal conduit for the foreign press’ ties with Swiss authorities, and that this issue was being addressed. The assembly decided that ACANU should monitor the issue.

The assembly ended at 12:20.

Jonathan Fowler
Departing ACANU Secretary
March 19, 2014