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As UK Punts on Media Access, Video With Defenders of UN's Stonewalling

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 5 -- The UN and the UK, including the UK at the UN, talk a lot about social media, and some about new media.

  But they now impose new obstacles on new media coverage of the Security Council, and are social in only a selective way.

  Before the Security Council was relocated from 2010 to June 1, 2013 and during the relocation, there was a media worktable in front of the Council where the press could file stories and tweets while speaking with diplomats entering and leaving even closed door consultations.

  At times, three to six blog-style pieces could be filed in the course of a Council meeting. This relied on being able to remain physically present in front of the Council, and having a table or surface to work on.

  The UN apparently didn't appreciate this coverage: when the Security Council returned to the second floor this week, there was no table. With its partner the old UN Correspondents Association, the UN's Department of Public Information cooked up a rule 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 rule hinders blog-style or new media coverage of the Security Council, to put it mildly. That the president of UNCA Pamela Falk of CBS uses the word "blog" as an insult, as if to mean "not a journalist," may not be unrelated to UNCA's role in the above-quoted rule.

  June's Security Council president is Mark Lyall Grant of the UK, who along with many in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doggedly entering the world of social media, Twitter, Tumblr, all under the heading #DigitalDiplomacy.

  So one might expect them to be supportive of blog-style, new media, even Twitter coverage of Council meetings. But when Inner City Press, on behalf of the new Free UN Coalition for Access which has opposed the above-quoted rule, asked Lyall Grant on June 4 for the UK's position, he essentially punted. Video here, from Minute 18:10.

  Lyall Grant said this is up to the UN's Department of Public Information and "the journalists directly to sort out." Which journalists? Well, on the UK Mission to the UN's website is a "World Press Freedom Day" video; the interviews are all big media and two of them have filed stealth complaints with the UN against the Press.

  Agence France Presse's Tim Witcher explicitly complained to the UN about how Inner City Press asked a question at the Security Council stakeout about the 135 rapes by the Congolese Army at Minova -- a topic Inner City Press also asked Lyall Grant about on June 4. Video here from Minute 17:32.

  Reuters' Michelle Nichols filed a related complaint, which was immediately piled on by Reuters' bureau chief Louis Charbonneau, who has previous told the UN's accreditation boss that he might leave the UN if Inner City Press were not thrown out.

  Both are associated with anonymous social media accounts which throughout June 4, until past 9 pm, were engaged in trolling Inner City Press for pushing for UNSC media workspace, use as their "argument" photos taken during DPI's March 18, 2013 non-consensual raid on Inner City Press' office. World Press Freedom Day? Indeed.

   (At Lyall Grant's June 4 press conference, ended with an apology that only one last question was possible, Reuters was given two questions because it sent two correspondents; some noted that a third, ex-Reuters reported was also called on. When is enough, enough?)

  The issue is not to turn away from the Western wire services that have served UK diplomacy so well. But to allow such corporate scribes to work with some in the UN to try to ban blog-style coverage of the Security Council is a strange position for the UK and its #DigitalDiplomacy. We'll be covering this, as an experiment in this way. Watch this video edit -- explicitly credited to the UK Mission to the UN, added commentary identified as such. And watch this site.

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