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
"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
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
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
"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
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.