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As UN Withholds Reports From Public, Challenge to Archaic Practice by FUNCA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 15 -- Why would the UN withhold from the public digital copies of its own reports while printing out hard copies for the correspondents it accredits, giving them a head start to write the story, and to spin it?

To whom is the UN's allegiance? To whom is the UN's duty?

Frequently Inner City Press is contacted by readers asking for copies of UN reports they've seen summarized on a wire service. They say they have gone to the UN's web site but can't find the report. Why not?

For some time, the UN has put paper copies of its forthcoming reports in a shelving unit or rack in the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General, which is referred to as “The Gray Lady.”

  First hearing this, Inner City Press thought the New York Times was being referred to. But no: it's a piece of furniture.

  A large part of the work of the wire services which cover the UN is to walk to the Spokesperson's Office, grab copies of the reports in the Gray Lady and go and summarize them... often ideologically.

  This sequencing may have made sense in the past, before the UN had a web site and put its documents online for all the world. Then, the reports may legitimately have been ready only for in-house journalists for a period of time.

  But now, all documents are prepared on computers. It actually takes more work to print them out and put them out for journalists than to put them online in the UN's document system. So why is it still done this way?

  In a sense, it is a way to “buy” journalists -- many readers think these scribes have worked to get a “scoop,” and rely on the wires' analysis of the reports. Correspondents serviced in this way are less likely to be critical of the UN, or at least of the Secretary General whose Spokesperson does them this favor.

  But now, this “favor” comes at the expense of the wider public. The report could have been made available to everyone, but is affirmatively withheld to make a small group look good.

   The process should cease -- and the Free UN Coalition for Access, which fights to protect free press but also the right of the public to information, has put in just such a request, to the Office of the Spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his Under Secretary General for General Assembly and Conference Management, DGACM.

  FUNCA has NOT made the request to the Department for Public Information, for at least three reasons. One, DPI often says that such matters are not its affair, as it has claimed that the refusal of Ban's Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous to answer Inner City Press questions, or to distribute information fairly, is not a DPI matter.

  Two, the things DPI has been asked by FUNCA have not been acted on or even meaningfully responded to, including at least twelve specific proposed reforms to the UN's Media Access Guidelines and the Accreditation rules -- the main “club” DPI holds over the head of the press.

  Third, it remains the case that DPI conducted a non-consensual raid on Inner City Press' office on March 18, rifled through papers and took photographs including of Inner City Press' desk and bookshelf.

 Then, after Ban's spokesperson was asked by BuzzFeed about the raid, the photographs were immediately leaked to BuzzFeed through an anonymous “Concerned UN Reporter” e-mail account. Inner City Press has asked DPI to identify who it let into its office, what photos were taken and why and precisely how they were leaked to BuzzFeed. These simple questions have not been answered.

FUNCA proceeds. Watch this site.

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