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UN's Media Rules Are Archaic & Exclusionary, FUNCA's 10 Reforms

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 10 – The UN's Media Access Guidelines and accreditation rules are an embarrassing anachronism, like UN Correspondents Association which is a party to them.

   Why does the UN limit accreditation to representatives of corporations “formally registered as a media organization in a country recognized by the UN General Assembly”?

   As Inner City Press on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman on February 5, does this exclusion apply to journalists from South Ossetia, “Abkhazia, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [or] Palestine before 29 November”?

   So far, the UN's only answer is that it is the General Assembly which recognizes states. But what about the rights of journalists?

   FUNCA followed up: isn't it claimed that “the United Nations recognizes the rights of journalists wherever they come from? But in the accreditation guideline it is limited to journalists from certain territories and that’s what [we are] trying to explore, whether that is consistent with what UNESCO said, article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on free press.”

   So far, no answer from the UN. We also ask: how did UNCA, the UN's “partner” as it points out back to the time of the League of Nations, not press to change this?

Or are members of the UNCA Executive Committee in agreement with the exclusion by politics and geography, just as they tried to expel the investigative Press in 2012?

   Here now are FUNCA's Top Ten Reforms required of the UN's Media Access Guidelines and accreditation rules, an ongoing effort by a number of FUNCA members:

1. The Preamble to the UN Media Access Guidelines requiring accredited journalists to abide by “the principles of the Organization” and “established journalism ethics and standards” is impossibly vague, since every day we see nations and individuals interpreting those principles and ethics in widely different ways.

  This vagueness gives the UN unfettered discretion to exclude journalists with no due process or explanation.

2. The process by which the UN may expel or process complaints against a journalist is never clearly defined in either the UN Accreditation Rules or Media Access Guidelines, despite a 2012 request by the New York Civil Liberties Union after several UNCA members tried to get the investigative Press expelled.

3. Bizarrely, the UN Media Access Guidelines at "2. Security Council (d)" state that “on the record questions should be addressed to the Council Members in front of the stakeout microphone.” This is obviously impractical and not the current practice. To be clear, it is not the role of the UN or their partner organizations to tell journalists and diplomats how, where, and on what basis, to exchange information.

4. The UN Media Access Guidelines are described as an “agreement between DPI, DSS, OSSG, OPGA, and UNCA. It is clearly improper to include UNCA as a partner on media guidelines, since UNCA has repeatedly sought to expel journalists with no due process at all.

5. The UN Media Access Guidelines state that “all correspondents are permitted access to open meetings in designated areas within the conference rooms.” This has not been complied with. Most recently, journalists were banned from Ban’s speech to the General Assembly, although this was listed as an open meeting.

  It should be (made) clear that webcasting of a meeting does not replace the right to be physically present, especially since from at least December 2012 to the launch of this list of reformed in February 2013, the UN live webcast does not work on the Android platform.

6. The UN Media Access Guidelines on Photo-Ops must be updated with what DPI committed to FUNCA on January 17 and again on February 5, 2013: that there will be no more restrictions on which media can go to photo ops, and no “pool” by UNCA as took place in the North Lawn Building in 2012. Since many of the current Media Access Guidelines refer to this Temporary North Lawn Building, they need to be revised before April 2013 -- with these reforms included, and UNCA no longer a party to rules to throw other journalists out.

   Likewise, the existing Media Access Guidelines say that "all correspondents may have access to the Delegates’ Lounge." This must continue to be the case, despite the current UNCA leadership now trying to limit access to Resident Correspondents. UNCA President Pamela Falk, in a January 24 letter to the UN, wants access only for "Resident" Correspondents, a subset of what is currently allowed.

  Since Falk is a lawyer, it can only be inferred that her UNCA wants to become even more restrictive than the current Media Access Guidelines.

7. The UN Accreditation Rules give automatic access to independent broadcasters and film production companies with “a UN partner organization that supports the production.” This amounts to favoritism for productions that portray the UN positively. Productions without a UN partner face higher hurdles to get admission. This is, then, yet another content-based standard.

8. The UN Accreditation Rules state, as to online media, that “the website must have at least 60% original news content or commentary or analysis.” Since the UN used this to dis-accredit a journalist who has now joined FUNCA, it is time for replacement with a standard for minimum original content, not a percentage given that website will often paste in the UN material they are analyzing or criticizing. One might also ask of the wire services' re-typing of statements attributable to the spokesperson of the Secretary General constitutes “original” material in any common sense meaning of the word.

9. The UN Accreditation Rules' repeated statement that non-profits are not eligible for accreditation is outdated and not enforced. AP and NPR are non-profits but are accredited; more recently a model of non-profit newsrooms, from ProPublica to some accredited at the UN, make it time to remove this archaic and arbitrary restriction.

10. The UN Accreditation Rules under "(1) Note on bona fide media organization" say that all those applying for accreditation must belong to an organization which is “formally registered as a media organization in a country recognized by the United Nations General Assembly.” This excludes individual journalists from all territories and non-member states. This is a real and ongoing problem which has barred many journalists from the UN, even including American reporters working for media physically headquartered in such territories or non-member states.

   These FUNCA proposals are being presented, to the head of the UN Department of Public Information and elsewhere. Watch this site.

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