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After UN Evicts News Agency of Nigeria, FUNCA Demands Why

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 4 -- The UN, which since its founding has assigned office space to media to cover it, has thrown the News Agency of Nigeria out. Its name was simply cut off the door to what had been its office space. Photo here, by FUNCA member Luiz Rampelotto.

  The Free UN Coalition for Access opposes the move, particularly since other privileged media have been allowed to leave their assigned offices empty and unused for long periods - the rationale used by the UN.

  Inner City Press on behalf of FUNCA asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it at the June 4 noon briefing, video here, and embedded below. From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: it seems that in the Central African Republic, where there is a UN Mission, there has been a ban on SMS or text messages directed at seeming a non-violent organization of a protest, so does the UN have any comment or reaction to that? And also, this is in-house, but I wanted to ask if you can explain the loss by the news agency of Nigeria of its office and workspace at the UN given that itís a major country, theyíre on the Security Council. Was there sort of notice given? Whatís the process? Whatís the reasoning?

Spokesman Dujarric: I donít know. The process for offices and accreditation is clear, itís on the website. And you know, you can ask MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit]. Iím happy to ask for you.

Inner City Press: I know thereís been previous request of sort of due process. Do you believe that thatís been provided in this case?

Spokesman Dujarric: I donít know the specifics of this case but I have full trust in MALU that due process is followed.

Inner City Press: [UN says ďinaudible,Ē but what was asked was ďdouble standards?Ē]

Spokesman Dujarric: What is your question Matthew?

Inner City Press: Okay, I guess my question is that it seems that without --

Spokesman Dujarric: No, I think Iíve answered the Nigeria question. If you have another one, Iím happy toÖ

Inner City Press: The CAR question. Do you have any comment onÖ

Spokesman Dujarric: No, Iíll check with the Mission. Iíll see if they have said anything on this.

   Nine hours later, despite Dujarric's statement that he was happy to "ask MALU" -- which he previously supervised -- no explanation was received. So FUNCA has submitted the question to MALU / DPI.
 
  Since the old UN Correspondents Association board, rather than defend media, have shown a willingness to try to get other media thrown out, FUNCA soon after its founding asked the UN to at least be more transparent in its decisions that impact media, including not only accreditation but loss of work space.

  The New York Civil Liberties Union asked the UN to publicly implement due process rights for the journalists which cover it -- but the UN has yet to do so.

  FUNCA continues to push for this, and for example for the UN to belatedly take some action on French Ambassador Gerard Araud, in the middle of a UN press conference in the UN Press Briefing Room, telling a correspondent, ďYou are not a journalist, you are an agent.Ē

  But the UN would not convey, even in its typically wan fashion, the stated position that correspondents should be treated with respect to Araud or the French Mission to the UN. And UNCA, the UN's Censorship Alliance, "dragged its feet," according to the correspondent to whom Araud said, "You are not a journalist, you are an agent."

  Nigeria is a member of the Security Council; its Permanent Representative Joy Ogwu held ten question and answer stakeouts during her presidency of the Security Council in April. (South Korea held only three stakeouts during its May presidency, by contrast.) So why is the News Agency of Nigeria having its UN work space taken away?


News Agency of Nigeria cut off UN office sign, photo by FUNCA's Luiz Rampelotto of Europa Newswire

  Here is a flier the Free UN Coalition for Access put out, soon after its founding, about double standards (it referred to a previous configuration of offices, over the UN's Dag Hammarskjold Library)

FUNCA Asks a Question: Double Standards Much?

The New York Times has an office inside of UN Headquarters. But its door has been closed, without opening, for months. A thick pile of fliers, months old, clogs the doorway. Thereís dust everywhere.

But the UN is doing nothing, because it wonít apply its rules equally to all.

In fact, reporters who want to cover the UN are being denied access to UN Headquarters Ė on the grounds that thereís just not enough space to go around. And Big Media gets handed big offices that some of them never even use.

The UNís media guidelines say that reporters need to come in the UNHQ three times a week in order to keep their office space. Itís a catch-22: if you donít have an office, you also canít get the right kind of press pass that lets you move freely in and out of Headquarters.

And plenty of small newspapers have lost their desks because they couldnít keep up with the attendance requirement. But of course, these standards arenít applied across the board: the New York Times hasnít even opened the door to their space since October.

What kinds of conditions are these? Is it any wonder that we see less and less reporting on international affairs, or that newspapers increasingly rely on wire services for their news? What other options are open to small media?

UN correspondents have launched the Free United Nations Coalition for Access, a group dedicated to guaranteeing equal access for all reporters looking to cover the UN.

We formed FUNCA after a small group of big media Ė the UN reporters from Reuters, AFP, and Voice of America ó banded together to try and dis-accredit Inner City Press, an independent news site that produces tough, watchdog reporting on the UN.

Then the head of the UNís Peacekeeping Department, Herve Ladsous, announced that he was no longer taking questions from Inner City Press Ė a policy which he has bizarrely, blithely kept going for months. This means he hasnít had to answer questions about, say, the UNís role in allowing rapes in the Congo, or working with the rapists, or in bringing cholera to Haiti. Far from putting pressure on him, most of the UN press corps has sat by silently and let Mr. Ladsous turn a deaf ear to all the tough questions.

FUNCA wants to fill the press freedom vacuum. Right now, weíre advocating along other things for the rights of freelancers who have been denied UN credentials (even as other freelancers have credentials and big offices). Weíre pushing more UN officials to give on the record briefings to the press corps. And we now work with journalists around the world, from Somaliland to Colombia to Burundi - and Nigeria.

   Note that despite a commitment that while UNCA maintains a glassed in bulletin board in front of the large office the UN gives it -- while News Agency of Nigeria is thrown out -- FUNCA can post fliers on a separate board, not glassed in, recently these have been torn down, including one about the need for the UN to take action after French Ambassador Araud told a correspondent, ďYou are not a journalist, your are an agent.Ē

  We are inquiring into these flier tear-down, just another form of censorship at the UN. Watch this site.


 

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