FUNCA Asks a Question: Double Standards Much?

FUNCA Asks a Question: Represented by a FUNCA founder

The New York Times has an office inside of UN Headquarters. But its door has been closed, without opening, for months. A thick pile of fliers, months old, clogs the doorway. There’s dust everywhere.

But the UN is doing nothing, because it won’t apply its rules equally to all.

In fact, reporters who want to cover the UN are being denied access to UN Headquarters – on the grounds that there’s just not enough space to go around. And Big Media gets handed big offices that some of them never even use.

The UN’s media guidelines say that reporters need to come in the UNHQ three times a week in order to keep their office space. It’s a catch-22: if you don’t have an office, you also can’t get the right kind of press pass that lets you move freely in and out of Headquarters.

And plenty of small newspapers have lost their desks because they couldn’t keep up with the attendance requirement. But of course, these standards aren’t applied across the board: the New York Times hasn’t even opened the door to their space since October.

What kinds of conditions are these? Is it any wonder that we see less and less reporting on international affairs, or that newspapers increasingly rely on wire services for their news? What other options are open to small media?

On December 7, a group of UN reporters launched the Free United Nations Coalition for Access, a group dedicated to guaranteeing equal access for all reporters looking to cover the UN.

We formed FUNCA because, frankly, 2012 was a terrible year for press freedom at the UN. In 2012, a small group of big media – the UN reporters from Reuters, AFP, and Voice of America — banded together to try and dis-accredit Inner City Press, an independent news site that produces tough, watchdog reporting on the UN.

Then the head of the UN’s Peacekeeping Department, Herve Ladsous, announced that he was no longer taking questions from Inner City Press – a policy which he has bizarrely, blithely kept going for months. This means he hasn’t had to answer questions about, say, the UN’s role in allowing rapes in the Congo, or working with the rapists, or in bringing cholera to Haiti. Far from putting pressure on him, most of the UN press corps has sat by silently and let Mr. Ladsous turn a deaf ear to all the tough questions.

FUNCA wants to fill the press freedom vacuum. Right now, we’re advocating along other things for the rights of freelancers who have been denied UN credentials (even as other freelancers have credentials and big offices). We’re pushing more UN officials to give on the record briefings to the press corps. Our movement is growing, and will continue to grow.