UN spokesperson retires; OSCE voice to replace her

14:45, December 01, 2009      

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By William M. Reilly

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday honored Michele Montas, his retiring spokesperson, as the "real face of the United Nations."

Montas delivered her final daily briefing to reporters who gave her a standing round of applause.

She was to be replaced by Martin Nesirky, spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), based in Vienna, Austria.

Marie Okabe, deputy spokesperson for the secretary-general, was assuming the responsibilities of Montas until Nesirky assumes his new role Dec. 7.

Ban jokingly said he was reading "A statement attributable to a spokesperson for the secretary-general" -- as Montas so frequently read-out statements for him.

He recalled Montas was his first appointment when he took office in 2007 because she was "someone I could trust and someone who believed in the United Nations as much as I do and someone who embodied the highest standards, personal integrity and journalistic credibility."

Ban replaced Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2007.

Ban told Montas, "You are a tough act to follow. I will miss your grace under fire." He called her work a "great contribution" and expressed his "sincere gratitude."

He lauded Montas as "a great professional ... tough, but kind ..calm and collected .. warm and funny," then joked, "I don't know who wrote this," referring back to "a statement from the spokesperson."

The statuesque Montas, an award-winning journalist from Haiti, joined the United Nations after her husband Dominique was assassinated, their Port-au-Prince radio station bombed, death threats and her bodyguard killed.

She worked in the Department of Public Information, served as spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly and headed up UN Radio's French unit before becoming spokesperson for the secretary-general.

"I am grateful for the trust so many of you have expressed in me and in our team in the last 35 months," she told reporters crowding the usually-less attended noon briefing. Staff members also crowded in, recording the event for themselves on phone, still and video cameras

"I know you all have been frustrated at times for not finding enough information in this room, while having constantly to justify to reluctant editors the need for continued UN coverage," she told correspondents. "So many of our traditional print media ..are now fighting for survival, as our media environment has imploded into thousands of competing electronic and blogging voices."

Adding her own frustration at "not being able to always provide you with more information; frustrated also that instead of genuine requests for information, we are too often faced with posturing for the camera; frustrated also that so many incredible stories are left untold because it is assumed that no one is interested or simply because they are not news, in the narrow sense, at least not the headline grabbing ones."

The Monday briefing, which kicked off on the topic of Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People, also dealt with what seemed like perennial topics such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, humanitarian appeals and climate change.

Afterward, Montas told Xinhua she intended to take three months off, unwinding, before considering any other possible work.

First she had to attend a farewell party hosted by UN staff in the UN Correspondents Association's usually drab club room.

But, for this tribute UN staff spangled it with dangling-from-the-ceiling cut-out stars and video on flat screens glowing with a colorful slide show of Montas with the secretary-general, UN officials, diplomats and world leaders.

Source: Xinhua
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