UN, Deal on Press Limits Faces Safety Block, Turf War Council Meeting
Matthew Russell Lee
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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,
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.
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?"
always," drew laugher from the UN officials. But this is what
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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!
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