At United Nations headquarters more than 220 days into 2017 there has still been only one sit-down press conference involving the Secretary General, who went away for two weeks without announcing it in advance nor saying where he was, in the midst of a crisis on the Korean peninsula. What will be the situation when he belatedly has a sit-down press conference on September 13?
The trial and six guilty verdicts for UN bribery against Ng Lap Seng, sole funder of South South News, show the UN, its Department of Public Information and partners were compromised and need reform. But proposals for reforms are hardly publicized. The UN still has no Freedom of Information Act, no content neutral standards for accreditation and no rights to due process or appeal for journalists.
There is a fundamental conflict of interest: DPI, charged with pushing out a pro-UN message, also has unfettered discretion in granting work space and full access (or not) to the media which cover the UN. Incoming DPI chief Alison Smale must address this. Several unilateral and lawless decisions must be reversed, and also non-resident correspondents should not be restricted to minders or escorts to cover events on the Conference Building’s second floor.
In the field, the UN must become more responsive to local journalists. As raised by the Free UN Coalition for Access, a journalist in Yemen was blocked by the UN’s envoy to that country, a practice engaged in by other UN officials, endorsed by the Office of the Spokesperson. The UN needs a FOIA, a reversal of 2016’s anti-press decisions and due process and content neutral standards, and at least monthly SG press conferences going forward. We’ll have more on this: watch this space.