Good Journalism at the U.N.?
It might become harder to find.

Matthew Lee, reporter for Inner City Press


Brett D. Schaefer

With all the corruption at the United Nations, you might think that the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) would have better things to do than pick a fight with a single reporter. But you would be wrong.

Matthew Lee is the only reporter for Inner City Press, a Bronx-based nonprofit group known mainly for investigations of financial institutions and advocacy for the poor. Lee has broken a number of stories about the U.N., but now he himself is the story. In fact, he could become the first journalist ever expelled from UNCA.

Last week, UNCA announced that it would investigate Lee for unethical and unprofessional behavior. Few reporters with knowledge of the situation wish to comment on the record, but journalists both inside and outside the UNCA say the situation is one in which personal animosity has overridden professional judgment.

Regarded as abrasive by some of his colleagues, Lee has had volatile arguments with other UNCA reporters, and has frequently complained about other journalists’ failing to credit him for breaking news. He has also written stories accusing the UNCA president, Giampaolo Pioli, of a conflict of interest involving Sri Lanka. These personal disputes lie at the heart of the UNCA investigation.

UNCA is a self-governing body. Thus, whether Lee remains a member is entirely up to the organization. UNCA membership is not a prerequisite for obtaining U.N. press credentials, which are granted by the U.N. Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU) — so Lee’s expulsion would not automatically deprive him of U.N. access. According to the Guidelines on Media Access at United Nations Headquarters:

The United Nations Department of Public Information as well as the Safety & Security Service reserve the right to deny or withdraw accreditation of journalists from media organizations whose activities run counter to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations or who abuse the privileges so extended or put the accreditation to improper use or act in a way not consistent with the principles of the Organization or established journalism ethics and standards.

A MALU spokesperson acknowledged that the U.N. has rescinded press credentials in the past, but she added that UNCA’s investigation of Lee would not directly influence MALU.  

Lee’s grammar and style are often unusual, and he sometimes fails to observe journalistic niceties. Although these traits are not uncommon among small media outlets, some journalists have expressed concern that they — along with an unfavorable UNCA decision — could allow the U.N. to deny Lee’s reapplication for press credentials on the basis that his actions are inconsistent with “established journalism ethics and standards.” His current credentials expire in August.