Call For Media and Government Investigation

of Sathya Sai Baba And his worldwide cult, the Sathya Sai Organization

Posts Tagged ‘Media Advisory (UNESCO)’

The Case of UNESCO’s Missing Media Advisory

Posted by Barry Pittard on March 15, 2007

Note 20 June 2010. As more people quit the Sathya Sai Organization and to inform more recent readers and researchers, I shall, for the while, put to the front of my blogsite an article I wrote in March 2007.

To point to underhand institutional conduct is never enough. Fact in plenty may still be not enough – especially when an institution under question does its best to make it appear that those who question it have malign intent, and have no notable evidence. Or when that organization attempts to bury evidence of statements by its founder that, all unwittingly, militate against both it and him. See:

The Quiet Weeding Out Of Sathya Sai Baba’s Embarrassing Statements

Sathya Sai Baba and Absurdity – Revealed in His Officials’ Documents

However, when a research effort involves an august institution like the BBC, those institutions which have been covering up are shaken, and only then can sometimes become more accountable, as has been the case of UNESCO’s ‘missing’ Media Advisory. In this case, it was UNESCO which was forced to become accountable. Neither the Indian government nor the international Sathya Sai Organization have been so, all along. The BBC has described Sathya Sai Baba as ‘The Secret Swami’. See:

The BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ – A Revision

BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami’ and British Press Praise

BBC Hidden Camera in ‘Secret Swami’. Ethical?

Earlier that year (2004), the producer of the one-hour television documentary, Eamon Hardy, noted in my hearing that the Sathya Sai Baba saga raised very real questions as to India’s maturity as a democracy. As it turned out, the BBC exposure of the unhealthy Indian Government-Sathya Sai Organization-UNESCO Director nexus was not able to be referred to in ‘The Secret Swami’. It was all too late. However, any intrepid investigator can approach the BBC and UNESCO, quite apart from reading this article fine tooth-comb in hand.


In September 2000, after months of intense effort by former Sai Baba followers from several countries, UNESCO and its joint sponsor the University of Flinders, South Australia, withdrew sponsorship of a large international education conference on human values under Sai Baba’s aegis at Puttaparthi. After the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Chubb, appointed a senior Staff member to investigate, delegates from Flinders University Institute of International Education were required to cancel. UNESCO’s Media Advisory stated:

“The Organisation is deeply concerned about widely reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youths and children that have been leveled at the leader of the movement in question, Sathya Sai Baba.”

UNESCO’s Advisory Had a Number of Concerns

The advisory also said that:

“Certain decisions were taken by the Institute of Sathya Sai Education without consultation, such as plans to hold some of the sessions at the Ashram of the Sathya Sai movement in Puttaparthi, and the inclusion of some speakers in the conference programme without their previous consent. Furthermore, the Organization is deeply concerned about widely reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youths and children that have been levelled at the leader of the movement in question, Sathya Sai Baba.””

Subheaders For This Article 

UNESCO and University of Flinders (South Australia) Withdraw From Big Sai Baba Conference

Sathya Sai Baba’s Officials Simulate UNESCO Involvement

UNESCO Complains to Press Trust of India

UN’s Dr Leonarda Jekantaite. Witting Sai Baba Tool Or a Babe-in-the-woods?

UNESCO Directors Scuttle Own Senior Officials

Indian Government-Puttaparthi Line: Sai Baba’s and India’s Interests are Synonymous

Top Sai Baba Aide Opens Mouth. Cat Jumps Out

UNESCO Directors Capitulate to India and Sai Baba

Will the Internet Wayback Archive Go Missing Too?

BBC Exposes Two Heads of UNESCO and Their Staff

BBC Catches UNESCO Heads and Staff In Falsehood

Sathya Sai Baba’s Officials Simulate UNESCO Involvement

Indulal Shah, then head of the Sathya Sai Organization, maintained the fiction of UNESCO involvement. Yet UNESCO had already fully informed him of its cancellation many days before the release of the Media Advisory on September 15, 200. In his inaugural conference address, Shah said:

“Let me share with you that U.S. magazine Week has chosen to give respect to the UNESCO conference held in Prasanthi Nilayam highlighting the message of Bhagawan on ‘Values for All”.  (Source: ‘Materials of the 7th World Conference of the Sai Organization’, 20.11.2000).

That is to say, Shah in front of over 900 conferencees spoke of “the UNESCO conference” – when there was no UNESCO involvement! Indeed, Shah and other organisers had spent several previous days dealing with the crisis of UNESCO’s cancellation, the Indian media situation, and so on.

UNESCO Complains to Press Trust of India

When the Times of India printed an alarmingly small portion of the Media Advisory, the world body lodged an objection to the Press Trust of India, It may be mentioned that the Times of India has long been a stronghold of Sai Baba devotees and supporters, including a board director P.N. Bhagwati, Sathya Sai Central Trust member and former Chief Justice of India, more recently with the United Nations.  PTI then forced the Times of India to publish the Media Advisory in full.

UN’s Dr Leonarda Jekantaite. Witting Sai Baba Tool Or a Babe-in-the-woods?

The same fiction of UNESCO participation was also preserved by the appearance on the dais by a high profile UNESCO diplomat, Dr Leonarda Jekantaite. Despite UNESCO’s withdrawal from the conference, Sai Baba’s official organ, Sanathana Sarathi (Volume 43, October 2000, page 317) reported:

Dr Leonarda Jekantaite, Secretary General of UNESCO (Lithuania) presented the Keynote Address.”

 There are two issues here. First, that the official organ of Sai Baba’s Central Trust – distributed worldwide – AND the conference organizers maintained the fiction of UNESCO participation. Second, that Dr Jekantaite still not only attended but gave the keynote speech at the conference, despite the withdrawal of the body she ostensibly represented. A colleague of mine, Robert Priddy, previously head of the Sathya Sai Organization in Norway and retired lecturer in Philosophy and Social Science at the University of Oslo, corresponded with Dr Jekantaite on this matter. Very lamely, she excused herself by saying that she attended in a personal capacity. This line would seriously obscure the fact that the conference presenters portrayed Dr Jekantaite to the conferencees as the UNESCO representative. Was she was being incredibly naïve, being an unwitting propagandist tool in the conference organizers’ hands? Or was she actually prepared to be a witting tool in the hands of Sai Baba’s demonstrably dishonest organizers like Indulal Shah in allowing her presence to suggest UNESCO’s presence at the conference? Was she in fact a Sai Baba devotee? Was there anything all that “personal” about her reasons for staying on at the conference? A simple, natural, truthful response in her email to one who had long taught in one of the world’s foremost universities could have clarified much.

UNESCO Directors Scuttle Own Senior Officials

Another point that needs more attention – because, being a ‘hot’ topic, allegations of sexual abuse can tend to obscure other issues – was UNESCO’s dissatisfaction that conference organizers had maintained that the conference was to be held separately from Sai Baba’s ashram. Those who attack the Media Advisory (and many other issues about Sai Baba and his often heavily unaccountable organization well-documented by former devotee and other critics and some of the world’s leading media) need to be truthful about this. Nor did the UNESCO director and deputy director honor the earlier hard work of some of its most senior officials involved in the investigations and approvals that lead to the framing of the advisory. In repudiating the advisory these two officials were, in effect, repudiating their own officials, like Zhou Nanzhao, then head of UNESCO-ACEID in Thailand.

It is known that at the conference the UNESCO withdrawal was NOT mentioned! Clearly – highly typical of Sai Baba’s managers – major ‘stage management’ was going on.

Indian Government-Puttaparthi Line: Sai Baba’s and India’s Interests are Synonymous

Sai Baba critics who deal with senior government officials both in India and other countries have repeatedly found that Sai Baba’s propagandists have succeeded in creating the image that what affects Sai Baba affects all of India. One of the top British Foreign Officials told former Labor MP for Putney Tony Colman that where Sai Baba was concerned the Blair government did not want to ‘rock the boat’ with India. Mr Colman and (separately) some fifty other parliamentarians from various Parties, who at first had signed a Petition to raise the Sai Baba matter in the House of Commons, were asked by the Whips and others, to back off. Considerable trade deals, like the one billion plus sale by Britain to India of Hawk fighters were mentioned. Particularly active in efforts not to rock any ‘boats’ were Labor Friends of India, Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India, and the Indo-British Parliamentary Group. In one case, a leading international lawyer (who will speak to media of best repute) reported that he was told by senior London Metropolitan Police (who were far from happy about it) that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office had sent an instruction that the police were not further to pursue investigation related to Sai Baba, because the matter was an ‘international’ one.

Top Sai Baba Aide Opens Mouth. Cat Jumps Out

Little knowing that his triumphant revelations on an official Puttaparthi website would later come back to haunt him, Dr G. Venkataraman, Sai Baba’s deputy world head, who also leads the attempt to bring round-the-clock satellite Sai Baba radio to every corner of the globe, let quite a big ‘cat’ out of the bag in an offical Puttaparthi website. Hitherto, Sai Baba’s organization has been noted for its glacial silence in the face of the many and serious worldwide allegations (which are far from being solely about sexual molestation of boys and young men) against its founder. But what seemed such a triumph was clearly too much to hold back.

 Vol_02/05March01/03_Spiritual_Blossoms/ 02_Reflection/reflection.htm

But the ‘cat’ was soon to scratch. Venkataraman states:

“Both the Foreign Minister and this diplomat were terribly upset that nothing had been done this far”

Indian Diplomat Writes to UNESCO Head

India’s UNESCO representative (though he does not name her, this was Mrs Neelam Sabharwal, since named India’s Ambassador to Cyprus) then wrote, according to G. Venkataraman, to UNESCO’s Deputy Director General, Koïchiro Matsuura, saying that:

“the “Government of India considers Sri Sathya Sai Baba and his movement a national asset and takes strong exception to UNESCO press release, which spreads wholly unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation  against Sri Sathya Sai Baba. I would therefore request you to take immediate steps to remove the objectionable press advisory from the UNESCO website. I would also appreciate an expression of regret for the damage caused to one of India’s revered public figures, without first verifying the facts and any consultation with Indian authorities.”

UNESCO Directors Capitulate to India and Sai Baba

Dr. Venkataraman quotes what he claims to be the letter of reply to India’s UNESCO representative by UNESCO’s Deputy Director General:

“I do appreciate this concern and wish to inform you that following your personal intervention, the media advisory in question was immediately withdrawn from the archives of the UNESCO’s web site for education.

“I should also like to take this opportunity to say how much the Organisation regrets this unfortunate incident and to reiterate to you, on behalf of the Director General, that the Organisation attaches the greatest importance to the varied forms of fruitful collaboration that we have enjoyed with your country for many years.

“I hope this letter will set your mind at rest and dispel any misunderstanding.”

Venkataraman’s account (which the BBC later showed to be correct) was that he succeeded in getting (now former Prime Minister) A.B. Vajpayee’s Foreign Minister, Yaswant Sinha, and a former Indian Ambassador to France at this time now at UNESCO, to get the head of UNESCO to suppress the Media Advisory from its official website.

Will the Internet Wayback Archive Go Missing T00?

Fortunately, the document had been cached on the ‘Internet wayback machine’ and is now found at Click Here

One would not have been surprised if, given the power they wield in many high places, Sai Baba’s people had tried to obtain the removal of this document. One may guess, given their known track record for using high-profile devotees to threaten institutions with litigation, that the continued existence of this file in the Internet archive owes more to the integrity of the company operating this remarkable service than it does to the probity of Sai Baba’s top officials. (We shall report widely on the Internet should that document go missing too). Perhaps they accepted as a fait accompli that, in any case, the document has been widely copied to the Internet. Or else that the document – should anyone try to dispute the accuracy of the copies of it on former devotee and other websites – is in any case obtainable from the written archives of UNESCO.

Intimate Nexus Between the Indian Government and Sai Baba

Like a surprise gift to the rest of the world, here was G. Venkataraman’s proud revelation of a Puttaparthi-Indian government ploy to withdraw the Media Advisory. It was provided to David Savill, Assistant Producer of the BBC’s ‘The Secret Swami”. Given that the screening date fast approached, the intensive, months-long work on this documentary were to be shortly concluded. Nonetheless, David Savill wrote and spoke by phone to UNESCO (Paris). He saw that UNESCO was in cover-up mode (a mode observed by all media, academic and other investigators who have attempted to probe The Sathya Sai Organization).

It was clear that Venkataraman was absolutely right. The UNESCO head, via his Deputy Director, had obliged  India in this matter.

For the many survivors of Sai Baba around the world, this felt like a setback.  It had been exhausting work Some of it was terribly sensitive, because of varying responses of survivors of sexual and other abuses. It was often hard to revisit what had been for them the most shocking betrayal. 

In passing, I may add that obtaining coherent accounts from abuse victims is one of the most difficult of assignments. Survivors, not to mention their families, can make honest mistakes about dates, times, etc., and need experienced, highly competent professional counselers to debrief them. The profoundly dishonest internet proxy for Sathya Sai Baba forces conveniently ignore such facts. Over many months of carefully documented submissions, proof of credentials, etc., (an effort also pursued with the University of Flinders), organized former Sathya Sai Baba followers from many countries had gone to great pains to submit hard evidence (most of it too sensitive to be released to this day, except to bona fide institutions) against Sai Baba and senior leaders to the world body.

BBC Exposes Two Heads of UNESCO and Their Staff

Early in 2004, UNESCO spokespersons told media and other enquirers that the Advisory did not now reflect its views. David Savill reports that only after his strenuous questioning of a senior UNESCO spokesperson, did she, Sue Williams, finally agree in writing to Mr Savill that currently “UNESCO does not regret issuing the media release of September 15 2000.” Here was a backflip! The BBC had enforced from Mrs Williams an extraordinary admission. She directly contradicted what senior UNESCO officials had told a number of enquirers both by phone and email. One  example was an email to the West Australian newspaper’s Education Correspondent Susan Hewitt on February 5, 2004. By phone – at the same time – a senior UNESCO official told Garth Wynne, the Principal of Church of Christ Grammar School, Perth, Western Australia (who acted in the Sai Baba matter on behalf of  the then Anglican Archbishop of Australia, Dr Peter Carnley) that the Advisory had simply been “routinely purged”.

BBC Catches UNESCO Heads and Staff In Falsehood

The Deputy Director General’s statement about the Advisory being “immediately withdrawn” contradicts a number of statements emerging from other officials like Isabel le Fournis and the late Elke Salas Rossenbach. They gave out the ‘routine purge’ fabrication. After my repeated attempts, and repeated evasions by UNESCO (Paris) officials, to obtain the facts, Sue Williams emailed me, May 13, 2004, stating:

“the media advisory dealing with this issue resulted from a routine operation to purge and update the site.”

That this account is false is readily shown in UNESCO’s stance appeasing India’s then Foreign Minister that the media advisory “does not now reflect UNESCO’s position”.

Having sensed serious UNESCO contradiction and evasion – particularly in the light of the Venkataraman material – the BBC first tactically held back and then, once the spins span thick and fast, released the whole Venkataraman piece to the UNESCO official, Sue Williams, whose immediate boss was the Deputy Director General.  After repeated pressure from the BBC via phone and email, Ms Williams wrote to the BBC:

“UNESCO does not regret issuing the media release of September 15 2000″.

The acrobatics were quite something to watch!Furthermore, BBC staff spoke to India’s then Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Mrs Neelam Sabharwal, (since named India’s Ambassador to Cyprus). She greeted them with the blank statement that “Sai Baba is a respected Godman” and no, she didn’t know why UNESCO had issued a media advisory and that it had been withdrawn. It is a pity for her that Dr G. Venkataraman’s account so gravely, though unintentionally, questions her veracity.

Whether it is more holy to bow to India or to bow to the BBC might also provoke an interesting discussion. Perhaps, in contorting fashion, UNESCO has tried to bow to them both.

The Public Petition

Information on the Public Petition for Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization

About the Petition For Official Investigation Into Sathya Sai Baba Cult

(Note: You may prefer to proceed straight to the Petition):

Public Petition For Official Investigations of Sathya Sai Baba and His Worldwide Organization  

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