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UN's Delayed Move, Favoritism in Responses & Space Raised by FUNCA, Some Reforms Won

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 17 -- Why has the UN delayed by two months the move-back of the press corps to its headquarters skyscraper? Inner City Press and other members of the Free UN Coalition for Access pursued the question Thursday afternoon with three officials of the UN Department of Public Information.

  Despite an initial diversion that construction workers at the UN are now focused on the Hurricane Sandy damage to the third sub-basement, it is confirmed that the UN can't or won't pay the now prevailing wage in New York for the workers need to meet the February deadline.

   And so it will be April, they say. Does the UN not have the money? Or does it have other priorities? This will be pursued.

   Many other questions were asked, and some answered. While some wire services are slated to return to large private offices, others are not.

   The issue was raised, and double standards identified including separate office spaces for three ostensibly independent outlets run by the same government's foreign service.

   In response, FUNCA was told that it is still a live issue. Here's hoping for the appropriate resolution.

    In terms of the lack of space for journalists, FUNCA pointed to the absurdity of the censoring and decaying UN Correspondents Association being slated to get an "UNCA Club" -- which should be renamed and be open to all -- an "UNCA Office" and even an "UNCA Pantry."

   This last is apparently only the designation in the blueprints. It was said the "Club" will be open to all. But it must be re-named; it cannot be a way for the UN to prop up the legitimacy of UNCA, which it was confirmed does not pay any rent to the UN for the space.

  Likewise, after complaints last fall and Thursday, the formal on the record response was that in the future, passes for resident correspondents to cover the General Assembly will no longer be distributed through UNCA, but through the Documents Center.

  Access to photo opportunities, argued for by a long time photographer who since being told only "wire services" could attend took to boycotting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's events, was on Thursday guaranteed, even if it means two separate entries of photographers. Likewise, Ban's New York events will be disclosed in advance by the UN.

  Disclosure was the theme: FUNCA asked to be informed of all denials or revocations of accreditation. Cases of a television cameraman disaccredited for a single mistake were raised, as well as a critical journalist who was told the UN does not accredit freelancers. This will be tested, we predict by the National Writers Union.

   A complaint filed with the UN by the New York Civil Liberties Union, in response to a disaccreditation request filed by Voice of America which said that Reuters and Agence France-Presse supported it, was reportedly responded to, informally, the very day Inner City Press' accreditation was extended. (There may be a discrepancy on dates.)
   The actual response has not been provided but will be requested again by FUNCA. But such censorship, or non content neutral, dis-accrediation bids will be even more actively opposed by FUNCA in the future.

  More was said, but on other topics in an abundance of caution we will await DPI's promised written on the record answers.

  What FUNCA told the UN, on the record, is that UNCA went too far in not only not defending but actively seeking to expel and dis-accredit investigative press, and there is no going back.

   At this week's Kofi Annan book event, the new president of UNCA -- who ran without any competition, with the endorsement of the former four-year president, and issued no campaign statements -- told a newsy country's Permanent Representative, who in turn and amazed told Inner City Press about it, "I am the president of UNCA, not FUNCA." That's right - let's keep that straight.

   Going forward, the UN was told that FUNCA intends to be an ongoing mechanism to defend the rights of journalists to report from, and get answers from, the UN.

   FUNCA commended the new leadership of DPI for organizing "brown bag" presentations for UN officials like today's on Syria, and earlier by the Under Secretaries General for Security and for the Prevention of Genocide.

   The refusal of the USG for Legal Affairs Patricia O'Brien to ever answer questions was bemoaned. But will her replacement do better?

   And what will happen to the USG for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, who had his spokesman physically seize the UN TV microphone to avoid a Press question about rapes in Minova by the Congolese Army, Ladsous partners?

  Ladsous' spokesman -- but apparently not Ladsous -- has it emerged been told that was inappropriate. But what of Ladsous and his refusal to answer?

  What of a sense among many at the UN that there are double standards, favoritism in question granting and answering? FUNCA is on the case - watch this site.

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