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UN Evicts News Agency of Nigeria, FUNCA Questions Double Standards

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.

  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.

  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, “You are not a journalist, you are an agent.”

  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?

  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. There’s dust everywhere.

But the UN is doing nothing, because it won’t apply its rules equally to all.

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

The UN’s media guidelines say that reporters need to come in the UNHQ three times a week in order to keep their office space. It’s a catch-22: if you don’t have an office, you also can’t 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 couldn’t keep up with the attendance requirement. But of course, these standards aren’t applied across the board: the New York Times hasn’t 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 – the UN reporters from Reuters, AFP, and Voice of America — 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 UN’s Peacekeeping Department, Herve Ladsous, announced that he was no longer taking questions from Inner City Press – a policy which he has bizarrely, blithely kept going for months. This means he hasn’t had to answer questions about, say, the UN’s 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, we’re advocating along other things for the rights of freelancers who have been denied UN credentials (even as other freelancers have credentials and big offices). We’re 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, “You are not a journalist, your are an agent.”

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


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