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[Interview] OMNI Featured Writer Ronda Hauben
Winner of 2008 Silver Elizabeth Neuffer Prize for Excellence in Journalism at United Nations
Jay Hauben (jhauben)     Print Article 
Published 2008-12-07 14:52 (KST)   
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presents UNCA award to Ronda Hauben
©2008 Cheol H. Park (c) CH Park Comms., Inc
OhmyNews International's United Nations correspondent Ronda Hauben received the 2008 Silver Elizabeth Neuffer Prize for Excellence in Journalism in print and online media.

In awarding Hauben the silver prize, the judges wrote that it was for "interesting and provocative coverage of issues at the UN, notably about the consequences of the permanent five's stranglehold on the Security Council."

Hauben has reported from the UN for OhmyNews International since October 2006. She won the award this year for articles she wrote between Sept. 1, 2007 through Aug. 31, 2008.

"Security Council Fails to Act on Gaza Crisis" was one of the articles. The three other articles were "UN No Longer Seen as Impartial, Independent," "International Cartoon Exhibit Opens at UN" and "At Legal Crossroads".

The following is an interview done by Hauben's husband who is a citizen reporter.
When did you first consider yourself a journalist?

I have been doing various forms of journalism and writing for a long time. So this question is hard to answer. Most recently I have been writing for Telepolis since 1999. My first article in Telepolis was subsequently translated into German and published in a book that Telepolis put out called "Cyberhypes."

I have appreciated the experience Telepolis provides for a journalist, as this online magazine has been in existence since 1996 and is well regarded among journalists and the online community in Germany. Also there have been very interesting discussions by readers of Telepolis, sometimes as interesting as the articles themselves. So it has been an important challenge to write for the participants and readers of Telepolis.

Introduction and Remarks at Award Ceremony

Ian Williams, the moderator and head of the UNCA awards committee introducing Ronda Hauben [remarks slightly edited for space]:

The judges were impressed with the work Ronda did on how a lot of countries aren't exactly happy with the permanent five running things

And you can say this is idiosyncratic but when you look at the mess the permanent five have made of things for the last 50 years, I think there's a lot to be said for it. So congratulations Ronda.

Ronda Hauben remarks:

I'm delighted not only with the honor the prize is, but also with what the judges wrote. What they wrote was 'for her interesting and provocative coverage of issues at the UN.' And then 'notably about the consequences of the permanent five's stranglehold on the Security Council.'

What I'm delighted about is that, [though] it's not the same as being out in the field certainly...it does take a certain amount of courage to keep asking certain questions and particularly when those questions are not welcome somehow.

And that there's times you stop and you say should you keep doing that and my sense is the judges by giving this award have said to all of us, yes you have to ask the questions that aren't the popular questions, and that aren't the questions that you are going to be welcomed for having asked.

I think it's rare to have [such] an award. I submitted 4 articles for this. One of the articles is about a [terrorist] list that's made up by the Security Council that has no due process involved when people have their names put on the list.

And there's legal cases that people have won [about their innocence] and yet still [their names stay on] this list . . . It's an important issue and yet it gets very little attention. And there's similarly other situations like that that have to do with some of the particulars of the things that happen as you watch the Security Council and you watch what's happening at the UN.

The spirit of the UN is that people want it to be something that can help with all the problems in the world.

And I think for that to happen this prize is very important and I appreciate it very much, because I think it says what it takes [is for] the journalist being willing to be out there, even when it is hard. And so this is going to give me courage and I think it's an inspiration for everybody.

Thank you.

The url for the Webcast is here. (Ronda Hauben is introduced at around 34:19 minutes and her talk ends around 37:22 minutes.)

How did you first hear about OhmyNews (OMN)? Why did you choose to submit articles to OMN? When was that?

I first heard about OhmyNews in early 2003 when I read an article in the Financial Times that described how the new President of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun had been elected by netizens. I learned that OhmyNews played an important role in the election and was well regarded in South Korea as a pioneering newspaper.

My first article was submitted to OhmyNews in Korean and English in March 2004. It was about the Howard Dean campaign for the 2004 US Presidential election and I thought there were lessons to be learned from what had happened in the Roh Moo-hyun campaign of 2002. I subsequently submitted a number of the articles I had had published in Telepolis which were then reprinted in OhmyNews. This was even before there was an OhmyNews International (OMNI). I was eager to learn more about OMN and was happy that it expanded to start OMNI. I hoped that there would be a version of OMN begun in the US and that I would be able to work as part of it.

How do you choose the topics you write about?

I try to cover what I feel are important stories that are either not adequately covered or covered in a way that is not accurate in other media. For example, it seemed that during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq by the US government, there were inaccurate reports in the media that helped to prepare the ground for this invasion.

One journalist has called such inaccurate reports, the creation of a fictitious narrative. I wondered if it would be possible in the future to counter such fictitious narratives by accurate narratives. This has been some of the goal recently of the journalism I have been working to develop.

One example of such articles are the articles I did about the US government's use of the Patriot Act to freeze the assets of the Banco Delta Asia in Macao. Through investigation, I learned that the US government was acting as the accuser and judge with regard to its claims of the basis for its actions against the bank. I feel my articles on this issue were an example of striving to create an accurate narrative to counter the fictitious narrative that appeared in some other media accounts of the situation.

How did you become a UN correspondent?

I was able to attend the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in Nov 2005 as a UN correspondent for Telepolis. This was an exciting experience to see so many heads of state and other national representatives gathered together to discuss the need for all to have access to the Internet.

After returning home in NYC, and resuming writing for OhmyNews International as a featured writer, I followed more of what was happening at the UN. Also I pay attention to what is happening in South Korea, as I do research and writing about the role of netizens in South Korea to play a greater role in their society.

When Ban Ki-moon won the nomination to be the new Secretary General, I asked OhmyNews International if they would sponsor me to become a correspondent at the UN. They agreed and I was able to report on Ban's first day as Secretary General and other events related to South Korea at the UN.

Why did you choose to submit articles to the UNCA contest? When was that?

I submitted a series of articles to the UNCA awards competition in August 2007 as I had done several articles that I felt were helping to counter the fictitious narratives on UN-related developments.

I was told that I had made the short list but hadn't won an award. I then submitted a new set of articles for the 2008 competition.

What is special about the UN as your journalistic beat?

The UN is a very amazing venue, but it also is a difficult one to be able to write about in a significant way.

What is amazing is that there are many people who work at the UN in different roles and capacities who have a vision that people cooperating and working together will be able to solve the problems that exist in our world. I have had very interesting conversations with people who feel that just working with other people from so many different countries around the world teaches them a lot about these different places and helps them to have a more cooperative perspective on the world.

Also, though, reporting for a newspaper that is not well known means that one is at a disadvantage. The journalists from more well known publications have better access to information, to asking questions of the Secretary General and a myriad of other advantages.

Often the issues in contention are hidden from public view to those who don't have inside connections at the UN, so it is hard to know what is really going on behind the scenes. It is necessary to be able to get beneath the surface on important issues, but it is also very difficult.

What do you think is the significance of the award?

What I said when I had the chance to offer my thanks and thoughts on the award at the December 4th awards dinner, is that the award is something important.

It is an encouragement and an inspiration to have more courage when trying to deal with the difficult issues and questions that emerge when working on stories about the UN. For example, Israel has blockaded Gaza and it has been important to report how the Security Council is blocked from condemning this blockade by political maneuvers. Several of the nonpermanent members of the Security Council spoke up to share their frustration with this activity of some of the P-5 members. One of my four articles that won this prize described this situation in the Security Council.

Some of the journalists ask at press conferences about the situation and what UN officials or Security Council members are doing to solve this problem. It gets frustrating to keep asking, as it seems that there is no answer given. The award, however, is an encouragement to continue to ask and to write about the situation, and not to give in to allowing it to continue in silence.

There are other similar stories that I have been working on and the award is the encouragement to work harder on them. Other journalists who feel they are at a disadvantage when reporting about the UN because they write for small or less well known publications have indicated to me that they are encouraged by my getting the award, that they, too, will be taken more seriously in their efforts.

Anything else you want to add?

Yes, there is. One journalist I know told me that she thought that my winning the award was the first time that she felt the UNCA journalism competition was important to pay attention to. She explained that this was redeeming the UN for her, as it was some of what should happen, but so rarely does.

OMNI: Thank you.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jay Hauben

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