FUNCA Stands for Fairness

Since its launch on December 7, the Free UN Coalition for Access has begun exploring the many double standards in how the UN is and can be covered. On December 27, the UN released blue prints of which media organization get space in the renovated third and fourth floors. There is a 41% decrease in space, and what remains is being allocated unfairly.

FUNCA raised a simple, sample issue. While a number of media organizations have been ousted from the UN office space for failure to meet the UN’s stated rule of coming in three days a week, the New York Times, fine paper that it is, has hardly been at the UN this year. 

But the Times is given space, and other media which are here every day are not. After the December 27 meeting, a question was asked: why target the New York Times? But it is not targeting: it is asking the UN to apply a single standard, to live by its stated rules.

More, rather than fewer, media organizations should get enclosed office space. Why, for example, beyond an UNCA “Club” and even an UNCA “Pantry” is there a need for a separate UNCA “office”? Couldn’t that work, whatever it is, be performed in the usually unused UNCA club, and that space be given to an actual journalist trying to cover the UN?

Another question arose: if the UN has reduced media space by 41%, shouldn’t it change its rule that only those with assigned office space can get a “White P” pass and come into the UN without passing through metal detectors on 46th Street?

The answer was that “White P” passes are so the UN can check if the journalist is coming in three days a week. But it is now obvious that the UN is NOT checking that, at least not fairly.

Another disparity: once a large wire service has office space, any of its personnel can apparently get a White P pass, regardless of how infrequently they come. Meanwhile smaller media who actually come, but don’t get space under this system, are kept with a “Green P” pass, and must pass metal detectors each time, sometimes missing photo ops, stakeouts or press conferences.

These things must change. But UNCA has not fought for them. Perhaps it is no surprise — consider the UNCA “committee” that negotiated with the UN the loss of 40% of media space. More than one correspondents has noted by obvious: the UNCA committee is all big media, all of which got big offices despite the reduction. Is it surprising nothing’s been done for “Green P” journalists from smaller media?

The F in the Free UN Coalition for Access can stand for Fairness, as well as Freedom:

United Nations Freedom of Information
Non-involvement in and during UNConstitutional elections
Censorship not accepted, from anyone
Accountability of public officials to answer questions

This last applies to Under Secretaries General who refuse to hold press conferences, such as Patricia O’Brien of Legal Affairs, and to a USG who openly refuses questions he doesn’t like from particular media, DPKO’s Herve Ladsous.

Why was this allowed to go on since late May 2012, to the point where on December 18 DPKO spokesman Andre-Michel Essoungou grabbed and removed the UNTV microphone? The footage is available online. Now what will the Department of Public Information, which has been complained to, do about this?

There has still been no mention much less accountability for dis-accredition attempts, much less the failure to advocate to make these Under Secretaries-General hold briefings and answer questions. Why then the first questions, and special pass and pooling rights? There must be room for a least a two party system, & no more favoritism by DPI & its Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit.

More generally, is the loss of over 40% of media space acceptable? Will the loss’ impacts be fairly shared? What about correspondents waiting in line for space? What about longtime correspondents still denied a pass with a White P, simply due to a lack of space? Watch this space.