October 17, 2015 — Answering press questions and media access at the UN have both been in decline; now they must improve. The UN corruption charges against former President of the General Assembly John Ashe, Francis Lorenzo and others make timely responses to requests for information imperative, along with Q&A press conferences by, for example, the head and auditors of UNDP’s South-South unit.
Just as questions about peacekeepers’ alleged rapes in Central African Republic were evaded by referring to an investigation the deadline for which has since been extended, now the UN evades questions by referring to an audit by OIOS of only two NGOs (one portrayed on video here), not Ashe’s, Lorenzo’s and David Ng’s other vehicles.
More than before, the automatic setting-aside of first questions is inappropriate, particularly to an organization whose leaders took support from and gave awards and more to one of Ng’s vehicles. On October 14 this organization’s representative in the UN Press Briefing Room told a journalist to “shut up” and demanded the first question even after the speaker, Tanzania’s Permanent Representative, had chosen otherwise. Video here. The Free UN Coalition for Access says this is… UNacceptable.
In terms of responding, it starts from the top. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for the first eight months of 2015 did not hold a single sit-down Q&A press conference in UN Headquarters. Likewise, USG Herve Ladsous rarely takes questions, and then only selectively. On September 11, while refusing to answer about his role in trying to fire the whistleblower who revealed alleged rapes in CAR, Ladsous explained the rapes as related to a lack of “recreation,” suggesting “relatively cheap R&R trips.”
Overall, media access must improve at the UN, which needs a Freedom of Information Act. FUNCA will work on this, and other issues that are raised. Watch this space.