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Open Letter to the Board of the Swiss Press Club- Silencing Alternative Media and Insulting citizens

switzerland

(Photo credit: siette)


Below is the open letter sent to the Board of the Swiss Press Club, among others, to report on the censorship of alternative media and civil society by the Executive Director, Guy Mettan, on the occasion of a press conference just before the WHA, at which the Swiss delegation to the World Health Assembly were presenting the Swiss government’s position on a variety of  issues including WHO reform.

 

The extraordinary behavior of the executive director is strongly reminiscent of “Les Nouveaux Chiens de Garde” (The new watch dogs) referring to a recent French film documenting the service offered to those in power, by certain journalists who collude, often with zeal, in preventing democratic discussion of issues that are critical to the people and in this case, to their health and survival.

 

It is no wonder that “Health for All” remains a dream. We must support independent journalism everywhere and I want to thank the other staff of the Swiss Press Club whose welcome and respect for freedom of expression were exemplary.  

 

Alison

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to the Board of the Swiss Press Club

Guy Mettan, Executive Director of the Swiss Press Club,

Silences alternative media and insults citizens

Dear Members of the Board of the Swiss Press Club,

On Monday 14 May 2012, a press conference on “Switzerland and Global Health, Swiss foreign policy in the area of health and reform of the ”.

As a member of the People’s Health Movement (PHM), I attended the press conference in order to report back to the PHM electronic information network (phm-exch).  I am not a professional journalist but I contribute articles to newspapers, medical journals, and magazines on various aspects of international health.

I also contribute regularly to alternative media working on health and environmental issues, and in particular the internet information network (phm-exch) which serves health professionals and /or health activists all over the world. I was an international civil servant with the World Health Organization for 18 years. I continue to defend the constitutional mandate of the people’s international health authority.

The PHM is closely involved in the highly controversial issue of current WHO reform which was the subject of the press conference. Furthermore, PHM, on invitation by the WHO, has participated in all the preparatory discussions on WHO reform that were open to civil society.

Other “simple citizens” were also present at the press conference. Their particular interest was the Swiss delegations’ position on the 1959 Agreement (WHA 12-40) between the WHO and the IAEA which prevents the former from fulfilling its mandate in radiation and health, and the re-establishment of a department of radiation and health, which was closed down 3 years ago, leaving WHO with no competence in this critically important area of public health.

After the four ambassadors’ presentations, the participants were invited to ask questions. There were a dozen journalists in the room of whom 5 or 6 asked a question. With a censorious gesture of the hand, Guy Mettan indicated a vigorous “No” several times to a young woman wishing to ask a question. He informed participants that the Press Conference was for professional journalists and that “he would not take questions from anyone else in the room”.

Ambassador Silberschmidt intervened to say that he and the other ambassadors were very willing to answer questions posed by citizens. Forced to concede and show a minimum of good will and respect for democracy, Mettan announced that professional journalists with press cards would have priority and then he “would allow one question from one other person in the room”.

Astonished at what appeared to be an attempt to censor civil society and alternative media, I remarked that there were no more questions from journalists and that twenty minutes of press conference remained.

“You are here to make propaganda” replied Mettan and he announced that the press conference was over.

Shocked by this behaviour, I approached the podium to ask Mettan about the status of alternative media at the Swiss Press Club. Without replying to this question, Mettan lashed out again: “You are here to make propaganda” and he added “You are here to criticize WHO”.

It is interesting to note that Raphael Saborit, who is the spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs came rapidly up to the podium to support Mettan, and repeated his words. His unfortunate gesture somewhat tarnished the courtesy shown by the four ambassadors.

This clumsy censorship had surprised the participants and attracted a small crowd of people one of whom filmed the exchange. Under this pressure, Mettan informed me that I could ask questions after the press conference during the tea break. I observed that the point of a press conference was that the journalists present take advantage of the discussions. Some of the ambassadors were still present around the podium and listening to the exchange. Mettan snapped at me “So ask your question!” which I then did.[1]

Dear Members of the Board of the Swiss Press Club,

I leave aside the question of Guy Mettan’s lamentable rudeness.

I observe that the Executive Director of the CSP deprived the Swiss Ambassadors of the opportunity to respond to question posed by alternative media, which may reflect the positions and aspirations of Swiss citizens. He also deprived the and international media of precious information on the complex and controversial question of WHO reform. Alternative media, often linked with associations and NGOs, are privy to specialized information which are rarely available to professional journalists working for mass media. Their questions are often incisive and the responses are especially important for their internet readers.

Just to put the incident in context, I must explain that the group, IndependentWHO (of which I am a member and of which PHM is a founding association)  had  held its own press conference at the CSP three days before (for the Scientific and Citizen Forum on Radioprotection: from Chernobyl to Fukushima). Two women, welcoming us with warmth and professionalism, had informed us about the interesting press conference that was to take place the following Monday. We had asked if the event was open to the public and if we could participate and they had replied “Of course, you are very welcome!”

I remind you that “the SPC was established by the Republic and Canton of Geneva and the City of Geneva for public institutions” and I would like to ask the following question:

Given that a large proportion of information today is disseminated through alternative media (often electronic networks) what is the position of the SPC on the participation in press conferences of the many people who are active in the dissemination of information through these networks?

It goes without saying that I respect the current procedures of the SPC. I assume that the SPC fully recognizes the legitimacy and value of alternative media and the need to offer facilities for these networks in the interests of plurality of information sources and freedom of expression.

Yours sincerely,

Alison Katz

Member, Peoples Health Movement, IndependentWHO, SolidaritEs, Centre Europe Third World


[1] I welcome the fact that the Swiss delegation recognizes WHO as the chief architect of international health policy. But the delegation also supports the “multiplicity of health actors” including public private partnerships (PPP). One of the biggest and most influential of these is the Global Fund which deals with the three big killers worldwide (AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria), and WHO does not even have a seat on the board of the GF. Is support for PPPs  therefore incompatible with support for WHO as the central architect of international public health?

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