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UN Claims Media Space Given Fairly, Defers FUNCA's Other Reforms

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 9 -- Nearing the end of a year at the UN which featured one Under Secretary General who refuses to answer Press questions and several who refuse to hold press conferences at all, Sunday there was a small response from the UN.

 Since the response promises that information will be made public, we make the response, and requests, public here.

  The Free UN Coalition on Access, the day after its launch, raised a number of issues and reform proposals to the head of the UN's Department of Public Information.

  One of the most concrete issues was a meeting he has scheduled for December 10 with some members of the UN Correspondents Association executive committee, about how media space will be allocated in the repaired UN headquarters.

   Ignoring for now the other issues -- about chief UN Peacekeeper Herve Ladsous refusing to answer questions, and disparities in the treatment of media organizations covering the UN -- the delegated answer concerned only the December 10 meeting on space:

"rest assured that all resident correspondents, whether members of UNCA, FUNCA or of no organization, will be treated the same and offered the same services at the same rate."

   Even this is a contested point. Wire services which are represented on the UNCA executive committee have gotten big private offices; other wire services have been given smaller, shared space.

  Media from Korea, the Secretary General's home country, keep space they rarely use. Other correspondents have been ousted from their spaces. And on these and other issues, UNCA has done nothing.

   Here are some of the other issues, excerpted from FUNCA's first but not last letter to Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information:

During the General Debate in September, we were troubled to be told that the only way to get passes to cover events on the second floor of the North Lawn building was through UNCA. The UN should not be forcing correspondents to go through UNCA.

We are requesting that henceforth UN passes and other benefits not be distributed through UNCA, that first questions in press conferences not automatically go to UNCA (for now, we propose that one in four first question not go to UNCA), and that the "pool" for photo opportunities not be limited to UNCA members, much less UNCA executive committee members.

As it stands now, non-favored photographers, who have worked at the UN for eight years, are turned away from photo opportunities. This is not acceptable.

Given not only the UNCA executive committee's involvement in the June 20 letter from Voice of America seeking "review" of accreditation status but also a failure to defend other ousted correspondents, we ask that you inform FUNCA, and also otherwise make public, every withholding or limiting of accreditation...

After the Voice of America request, a request under the US Freedom of Information Act has yielded documents showing that VOA said that Reuters and Agence France-Presse supported that dis-accreditation request and that UNCA met with UN officials "very quietly" about this dis-accreditation request.

We remain troubled and interested to discover who these UN officials were, as we believe you should be.

Longer term, we urge you to push for a UN Freedom of Information Act, an idea we previously discussed with then USG for Management Alicia Barcena but on which no progress has been made: quite the opposite.

We respectfully request -- as apparently the UNCA executive committee has not -- that you schedule and hold a Q&A press conference, and urge that USG Patricia O'Brien and all other USGs at headquarters do so. Many have been in office for some time without holding such Q&A.

  The short response, from the official to whom Voice of America's dis-accreditation request was directed and who thanked VOA for it, and opined on its publication, does not address these points.

  Instead, it says the issues will be addressed soon -- not on December 10 -- presumably by USG Launsky-Tieffenthal. It also states, providing more basis for this publication, that "DPI expects that UNCA will share information from that meeting with all Resident Correspondents whether or not they are members of UNCA."

  This has not been happening, and it is unclear how it could. When Inner City Press asked for a list of accredited correspondents at the UN, it was told this information is private and would not be provided. Would the UN give it only to UNCA? There is no need or benefit in a one-party system. Watch this site.

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