Press Pushed from UN Council, Protests to Ban, "Tear
Down This Wall!"
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, April 6, updated --
"Mr. Ban, tear down this wall!" A long
time UN correspondent said this Tuesday morning, loudly, in protest
of the press corps being pushed away from the Security Council's new
location in the UN basement. On Monday, Inner City Press was informed
that in a closed Council consultation, a proposal was made to push
non-Council member states out into the hallway, and push journalists
even further back.
posed to UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe at Monday's noon
briefing, then to April's Council president Yukio Takasu of Japan,
the UN Correspondents Association put together a letter of protest,
to be handed alongside Tuesday Council meeting on Iraq to President
Takasu and the Ambassadors of the Permanent Five members of the
with the press
corps penned in far back from the stairs, even the letters of protest
could not be handed to Ambassadors as they entered. U.S. Ambassador
Rice strode in. Even as reporters called out, "We have a letter
for you," she smiled bemused and continued into the Council
chamber. Later a spokesman accepted the letter.
UN's Ban, US' Susan Rice, Patricia O'Brien and team,
press access not shown
Representative Parham came over and took the letter himself. Russia's
Dolgov accept it, asking, "Is it in Russian?" Long after
the meeting began, Council President Takasu had still not been
served. Nor had the Chinese mission. This job was left to Inner City
Update of 2 p.m. -- Inner City
Press gave the letter to President Takasu, when he came to speak to the
Press after consultations on Iraq, Guinea Bissau, the DRC and Somali
piracy. After the issue was raised to other non-Permanent Council
members like Brazil and Uganda, it was said that Ambassador Takasu as
President raised it as a "housekeeping" matter.
At the stakeout, he said again therre should be equivalent
access. Inner City Press asked President Takasu, and before him UN
Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe, about even UN Peacekeeping staffers
being now excluded from the Council consultation room. Ms. Okabe
conceded that such presence had been "useful." Ambassador Takasu did
not ask that question when asked, reverting to the Press question,
saying further consultations will be had. Only at the UN. Watch this
Here is the text of the letter:
writing to you in your capacity as the President of the Security
Council on behalf of the U.N. Correspondents Association to express
our serious concern about proposed restrictions on press access to
Council members outside their new meeting area. The proposed limiting
of reporters to a narrow strip of floor on the side of the stairs
with no right to ascend or descend the staircase would represent an
unprecedented and unacceptable curtailing of the ability of reporters
to follow delegates in and out of Council gatherings – and to do
their job. We understand that several permanent members of the
Security Council voiced their concerns about press access to
delegations and support reducing our access under the guise of
improving their delegates' "safety". The moves to implement
unjustifiable restrictions are taking place alongside attempts to
shut out U.N. member states that are not currently on the Security
Council and the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
position is clear. Any attempt to use the move and/or safety
concerns as a pretext to institute unprecedented and unnecessary
limitations on press access to the delegations is unacceptable to
UNCA members since it would further reduce the transparency of the
most powerful body within the United Nations. It is ironic that the
very council whose members have jointly and individually criticized
governments around the world for not allowing a free press to operate
in their countries have suddenly gotten into the business of
curtailing a free press at UN headquarters.
again, we expect that the conditions we had prior to the move will be
replicated to the full extent possible without any new restrictions
being arbitrarily imposed on our freedom of movement throughout the
building -- restrictions that were imposed on us unilaterally,
without prior consultation and in complete disregard of the Council's
long history of making interested delegates available to accredited
journalists. That does not mean we oppose roping off designated areas
to allow reasonable corridors for diplomats and U.N. officials to
comfortably enter and leave meetings. But it does mean that we must
continue to have access to all stairs and escalators as has been the
case for nearly six decades. U.N. delegates are free to decline to
comment to any reporter as they wish. We are all professionals and
will respect those wishes.
appreciate your advocating for us and your stated commitment to
replicating the conditions of the old stakeout area as much as
possible. We are confident that you are among those who appreciate
that a free press is one of the key building blocks of democracy
throughout the world.
have sent a copy of this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who
is in charge of managing the building and has repeatedly stated his
commitment to a free press worldwide.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Representatives of the Britain, China, France, Russia and the United
President of the General Assembly
UNCA also has a long outstanding request for a briefing by top UN
lawyer Patricia O'Brien, on topics ranging from the UN's involvement
in the trial of Somali pirates in Kenya to the Hariri tribunal to
that in Cambodia. But Ms. O'Brien has not come. Here's how it was
raised in a recent UN noon briefing:
City Press: This is a question both about Kenya and about, it’s a
question on behalf of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents
Association], believe it or not, the second part of it, first is that
-- you will see how they’re related.
Spokesperson Farhan Haq: A question on behalf of UNCA?
City Press: You’re going to see how they’re related. The first
is, Kenya has announced that it’s seeking to give six months’
notice to terminate its agreement with the UN to prosecute Somali
pirates that are caught by nations. And here is the UNCA part of it,
is that UNCA -- and I am saying this as authorized by the annual
meeting and by a recent meeting -- Patricia O’Brien, who is the
head lawyer of the UN, travelled to the region and is obviously
involved in the process. She was asked in writing by UNCA, in a
letter, to come and give a briefing on that topic, the [Rafik] Hariri
Tribunal, matters of general interest that she works on for the UN,
and there has been no response to the letter at all. Two others that
were invited have come: Helen Clark and Kim Won-soo. So I wanted,
UNCA has voted to reiterate to have Ms. O’Brien come.
Spokesperson: Our Office has been in touch with Ms. O’Brien, who
has often expressed her willingness to speak to the press. So we
will try to talk to her again about when such a meeting can be
scheduled. That shouldn’t be a problem.
been a problem, for months. Mr. Ban, tear down this wall!
* * *
UN, Security Council Moves to Push All But 15 Nations into the Hall,
Cut Press Access: Turf Wars
Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive
NATIONS, April 5 -- Outside the first consultation meeting in the new
UN Security Council chamber, both reporters and members states not on
the Council were Monday in disarray, on the verge of losing even more
A representative of UN Security Council Affairs told Inner City Press
that the media will be moved further back, where they can't even see
Council members enter. And member states other than the 15 Council
members will be relegated to an open hallway by the stairs, under the
The UN representative said that Council members complained of
"involuntary interation" with the press and even other member states
"like India and Germany," wanting a way to leave without seeing either.
Inner City Press countered that the media, and non-Council member
states, must be consulted, but was told to quiet down.
In what passes for news, in the beginning of the month consultations
led by April's Council president, Yukio Takasu of Japan, the U.S. asked
for a briefing about the elections in Sudan. Since U.S. envoy Scott
Gration is in Khartoum appearing to praise the process as "as fair as
possible," the U.S.'s request struck some as strange.
Nigeria requested a briefing about the chaos in Guinea Bissau, in which
the police arrested the Prime Minister last week. Apparently Myanmar
will not be discussed. Ambassador Takasu will hold a press conference
later on Monday. Watch this site.
The background: After its final March meeting,
the Council was moved from its longtime location on the second floor
to a suite of rooms in the UN's basement.
windows, but the UN says it is secure, safer than Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon's office atop the boxlike Temporary North Lawn Building.
Council, everything has changed. The suite of rooms has a closed
metal door and a sign, "Consultation in session, Security
Council members only."
seems to mean
that Permanent Representatives of member states not among the
Council's 15 members -- including for example India, Germany and South
Africa, to name a few -- can't even go into the Council's lounge, as
for years they did upstairs.
Council reform -- getting less rather than more inclusive.
stakeout with the
15 Council members' flags has been set up where the Vienna Cafe used
to be. It is at some remove from the Security Council doors; members
can leave by the stairs or garage without walking by the stakeout.
The new UNSC chamber under construction
reporters milled around between the stairs and the Council doors.
Spokespeople of only two of the Council's members, one permanent and
one in its second of two years on the Council, deigned to speak to
the press scrum. By 10:15, Inner City Press was the only media left,
on a rickety chair without a table by the stairs. Several Permanent
Representatives asked Inner City Press how to get into the Council.
"Through the General Assembly," was the reply. Watch this
* * *