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Free Speech & Press Work At UNSC Banned in UN Proposal with UNCA

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 21 -- The UN and its partners seem to either misunderstand or have little respect for freedom of speech, or freedom of the press to interview sources and cover the Security Council as it has in the past.

  This week new draft "Media Access Guidelines," with the old UN Correspondents Association as a named party, were provided for comment.

   Back in February, the new Free UN Coalition for Access had submitted ten proposed reforms, so it seemed only a matter of matching these to the open draft.

  But there were major changes in the new document with UNCA as a party. As to the Security Council, they propose that

"f. The Security Council stakeout area, including the Turkish Lounge, is not to be used as a permanent workspace for the media. When the Council is not in session, correspondents should minimize the amount of time in the area, unless interviewing or conversing with a U.N. delegate or official."

  This would represent a significant roll-back from the access the press had to the Security Council before the $2 billion Capital Master Plan renovation of the UN, and even what it has had at the interim Security Council in the basement under the General Assembly.

  Previously at the Security Council, there was a round table which the press could use, to write articles or edit video. Likewise at the Interim Security Council there is a table.

  The sentence "when the Council is not in session, correspondents should minimize the amount of time in the area" shows a lack of understanding or respect for how to cover the Council.

  There are often not only consultations, but meetings in the Council between the month's President and other countries, or entities like the Red Cross. This is covering the Council, and these draft "Guidelines" would result in less access, less coverage.

  The draft rules propose to limit entry into the Delegates' Lounge to "resident" correspondents, defined as those with offices in the UN.

  As FUNCA has repeatedly shown the Department of Public Information, it is unfair to deny such status for example to a photographer covering the UN for twenty years, but give a "resident correspondents" pass to a photographer for a wire service like Agence France Presse even if the photographer only rarely comes to the UN.

  The 2013 president of UNCA had told UNCA members she was fighting for all correspondents to have access to the Delegates' Lounge, but then named only resident correspondents in a letter. Turkish Lounge, indeed.

  Tellingly, the new draft rules state:

"Posting of notices is restricted to the bulletin boards provided by DPI, including the UNCA bulletin board (by U.N. Correspondents Association officials), and the General Access Bulletin Board (by all accredited correspondents). Signs posted on doors are limited to entry restrictions, for example, 'do not disturb' or 'on air' or the identification of your organization. All other notices (e.g. announcement of meetings/event, press releases) are prohibited unless specifically authorized by Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU).

"Failure to adhere to guidelines in this document can be grounds for withdrawal or suspension of accreditation."

   To explain this proposal, inevitably a bit of history is needed. In 2012, the UNCA Executive Committee tried to get Inner City Press thrown out -- first, of the Committee to which it was elected, then out of the UN as a whole.

  See documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from Voice of America, concerning Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg/UNCA and AFPClick here for responsive statement by the NY Civil Liberties Union.

The UNCA Executive Committee posted on its glassed-in bulletin board a four page letter (later sent anonymously to the Guardian UK) denouncing Inner City Press, for five months. MALU did nothing.

  Once Inner City Press let its due paying membership in UNCA expire, quit UNCA and co-founded the Free UN Coalition for Access with another elected UNCA Executive Committee member who quit in disgust, FUNCA sought to post fliers.

  UNCA Executive Committee members tore these down, or defaced or counterfeited them. Even then, MALU said that correspondents were free to post fliers on the doors to their offices.

  Then after advocacy with the chief of DPI, a FUNCA or "non-UNCA" bulletin board was allowed. FUNCA posted substantive fliers there, concerning such matters as how Ban Ki-moon's media availabilities should (not) be organized; no "fakeouts at the stakeout."

  During the move, there has been no bulletin board. FUNCA fliers about problems with the move were posted on the door of Inner City Press' office, along with a FUNCA sign.

  Now comes the proposal to outlaw any substantive fliers even on correspondents' office doors. What have the UN and its partner UNCA -- yes, the UN's Censorship Alliance -- come to?

  FUNCA was asked to comment on the draft Media Access Guidelines, and has raised the above points and more. It has requested explanation of the proposed changes, including those above. Rather than any explanation, this from the UN's Stephane Dujarric:

"We will look and take your proposals under consideration regarding the media access guidelines. As for the accreditation guidelines, we will tackle those after we've dealt with the move and the access issues."

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