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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Falt Raps Bad Press

Falt Raps Bad Press

Outgoing UNTAC press spokesman Eric Falt in his last interview before departing the

country said that the international press had failed in its coverage of UNTAC, that

he had become disillusioned with the media in general and that he felt he could no

longer find "the truth" in journalism.

Falt said that the press had failed "by not reporting accurately the whole picture,

which also happens to be the case in other peacekeeping missions."

While stating that the press did not lie, he felt the press was guilty of only reporting

certain aspects of reality and that overall press coverage had given the wrong impression

of what had taken place during UNTAC's mission.

"It was peace that prevailed during the time UNTAC was here," said Falt.

"Yes there was blood but it was of a very low intensity compared to other conflicts."

Falt cited the proximity of Vietnam "historically, geographically and professionally"

as reasons for what he feels was bad press coverage, referring to an era when many

journalists made their names covering the American military involvement in Indochina.

"A lot of reporters thought it was their chance to make a name for themselves,"

said Falt. "They missed the point, they missed the peace process, and they missed

the peace."

"There's more NGOs represented in Cambodia, more than anywhere else, but you

don't see their work represented anywhere," Falt said as an indication of an

important story that he feels the press hasn't covered.

Falt said that he and the U.N. had tried to tell the press that they were missing

important aspects of the UNTAC mission.

"We pleaded, we begged, we shouted but members of the media were sure they were

right," said Falt in reference to press reports that the U.N. was failing in

its mission in Cambodia.

"When (the press) was proven wrong they said nothing. I know it was discussed

but it was never written."

Falt, a student of journalism, said that he had believed in certain journalistic

ideals and guiding principles and that in his youth he had been inspired by Woodward

and Bernstein, the two reporters who broke the Watergate story which led to American

President Nixon's resignation, as well as similar journalist role models in France.

However, his experience as UNTAC press spokesman has left him disillusioned.

"I'm not sure any more in (my) search for truth that I'll be able to find it

in journalism," Falt said. "I don't think journalists are the role models

that they used to be 20 years ago."

Falt suggested that he thought he might be able to pursue his personal quest for

truth via a career with the United Nations while admitting that the world body was

not perfect.

The outgoing spokesman admits that his message and his criticism of the press is

not a popular one, but he says that "it needs to be talked about."

Falt added that "I know it will be thrown back at me, it already has, but I

don't care."

Falt's comments to the Post come on the heels of his address at the Foreign Correspondents

Club of Cambodia on Sept. 30 where he delivered an extended critique of the media.

Among numerous other shortcomings, Falt said that the media lacked the ability to

accept criticism.

"We, the people, are supposed to be gracious and smiling while you (the press)

print rumors and exaggerations about us. You prefer to kick and scream when someone

dares to oppose. Usually, you call that an attack against the freedom of the press

and you never fail to publish or broadcast even the nastiest piece on us. 'How dare

they? We will show them' seems to be the prevailing attitude," Falt said at

the FCC.

Falt ended his speech at the FCC by noting that not all journalists had lost the

qualities of the press he once admired. In singling out a reporter "who checked

his sources, sought out conflicting views, and thoroughly researched his stories"

Falt saluted Agence France Presse's Kevin Barrington as "the one hack you can

all be truly proud of."

Falt left Cambodia on Wednesday with his next U.N. posting as yet undetermined.

He said that U.N. officials in New York had mentioned his name as a possible candidate

for press spokesman for the mission in Somalia, although it was unsure if he would

get the job and be moving to Mogadishu.



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