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At UN, Deal on Press Limits Faces Safety Block, Turf War Council Meeting Called?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 7 -- In the hall of mirrors that is the UN, it wasn't clear under whose authority the Press was pushed back from the Security Council's new basement home on April 5. After a day of reporting and fight back, April's Council President Yukio Takasu of Japan on April 6 told Inner City Press that media access should not be reduced, and would be negotiated. Video here.

  Later on April 6, five reporters including this one accompanied the media liaison of the UN Department of Safety and Security and three Department of Public Information officials in front of and above the Security Council suite of rooms. The DPI representatives assented to access at street level, from the Delegates' Entrance to the stairs.

Then to an enlarged pen in the basement, shifting the non-Council member states to south of the stairs. But the UN Security representative, who previously told Inner City Press that "your table's gonna move," said that it was all subject to re-negotiation.

  One of the DPI officials told Inner City Press after close of business on April 6 that the following day -- today -- they would meet with the Security Council members to "seal the deal." Which Council members, Inner City Press asked -- all 15 or only the Permanent Five?

  A representative of the UN's Security Council Affairs branch on April 5 said that there was no reason to meet with the Council's president from Japan, since he and his country are transient members. But now, Japan is requiring that all 15 be met with, the DPI source told Inner City Press. Which members will stand for press access, and which against?

Council in its new Chamber April 6, press access not shown

France, whose Ambassador Gerard Araud began the complaining about the press in the Council's consultations on April 5, now said it agrees the Press must have access to the staircase and both lobbies. The hang-up, it emerges again, is the United States, according to well placed sources. The US Mission has denied they first raised the issue. But who is keeping it going, under the guise of safety? Watch this site.

Footnotes: unaddressed by President Takasu is the question of who moved to bar from consultations UN Peacekeeping and Political Affairs staff, and the Office of the Spokesperson, and why? When Inner City Press asked Takasu this on camera at the stakeout, he turned the question back to press access, on which he promised action. Video here, penultimate question.

  But who on the Council is so concerned with leaks that they are willing to leave DPKO and DPA, which do the actual work, in the dark about the Council's views? The suspicion is the Council most upset about the North Korea leaks, later accused of leaking, perhaps only through Nairobi, the Somali Sanctions report. We will have more on this.

  We end with this telling vignette. As the reporters and staff of DPI and DSS milled in the Delegates' Entrance, Sudan's Permanent Representative, his mandate just renewed, asked how he could help. Inner City Press asked him, "Do you support press freedom?"

  His answer, "Not always," drew laugher from the UN officials. But this is what emboldens them.

* * *

As Press Pushed from UN Council, Protests to Ban, "Tear Down This Wall!"

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED 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.

  Following questions 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 Council.

  But 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

   UK Deputy Permanent 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 Press.

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 site.

Here is the text of the letter:

Dear Ambassador Takasu,

I'm 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.

Our 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.

Once 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.

We 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.

We 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.


UNCA President

CC: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Permanent Representatives of the Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States

Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka

H.E. Ali Treki, President of the General Assembly

Watch this site.

Footnote: 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:

Inner 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.

Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq: A question on behalf of UNCA?

Inner 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.

Associate 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.

But it has been a problem, for months. Mr. Ban, tear down this wall!

* * *

At UN, Security Council Moves to Push All But 15 Nations into the Hall, Cut Press Access: Turf Wars

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED 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 access.

  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 plan.

  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.

There are no windows, but the UN says it is secure, safer than Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office atop the boxlike Temporary North Lawn Building.

But outside the Council, everything has changed. The suite of rooms has a closed metal door and a sign, "Consultation in session, Security Council members only."

This 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.

Some Security Council reform -- getting less rather than more inclusive.

A 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

Monday morning, 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 site.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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