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Access to Information Discussed But Not Practiced at UN, Which Journalists Are Protected?

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 1 -- In the run-up to World Press Freedom Day, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists released at the UN a report ranking "countries where killers of journalists go free." The methodology, as explained by CPJ's executive director Joel Simon, excludes so-called crossfire events, such as the U.S. bombing of Al-Jazeera's office in Iraq. Nor does the ranking reflect countries with the least press freedom. North Korea, for example, does not appear on the list. Rather, the list focuses on countries in which there is an expectation of press freedom, which is then betrayed.

            Inner City Press asked for CPJ's view on the UN's own promotion of press freedom, using the example of UN personnel in Nepal stopping local journalists from filming the site of a UN helicopter crash and seizing their film. The UN could do more, Simon said."We would like to see more engagement throughout the UN bureacracy." Video here, from Minute 22:04.

            While killings were counted in the study also came up. Inner City Press asked about so-called targeted crossfire; Joel Simon said that is not included, but that CPJ still asks for accountability, for example in Iraq. Video here, from Minute 20:43.

Rally in the Philippines, which made CPJ's list, particularly due to Mindanao

            After the press conference, Inner City Press asked Joel Simon how CPJ defines who is a journalist. There is no hard and fast rule, he said. But he said CPJ does not want to include "advocates and their screeds." He said he would e-mail Inner City Press DPJ's definition of who is a journalist.

            The following day, at a UNESCO luncheon graced by a speech by South African Justice Albie Sachs, Joel Simon was again present. "Oh right," he said. "The definition of journalist." Yes, that. One would think CPJ would have such a definition, to know who to protect. But eight hours after the luncheon, we're still waiting.  There will be a debate on just this topic on May 14 at Columbia's School of Journalism - but how is that defined? Click here for a video on the topic. We'll have more on this.

Footnote: Albie Sachs spoke of the importance of access to information, using examples from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the country's Promotion of Information Act, under which he sought and obtained records about his own torture. He took three questions then ran to catch a plane. Inner City Press asked him in the hall, Should the UN have a Freedom of Information law? He answered - and then said, "Don't quote me." So his answer is not here. But one wonders: what is it about the UN that its supporters, even those of the stature, moral and otherwise, of Albie Sachs, are no reticent to say, "Yes, this could be improved"?

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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