UN’s Delayed Move, Favoritism in Responses & Space Raised by FUNCA, Some Reforms Won, More to Follow

Why has the UN delayed by two months the move-back of the press corps to its headquarters skyscraper? Members of the Free UN Coalition for Access pursued the question Thursday afternoon with three officials of the UN Department of Public Information. This interim post is in the spirit of transparency.

  Despite an initial diversion that construction workers at the UN are now focused on the Hurricane Sandy damage to the third sub-basement, it is confirmed that the UN can’t or won’t pay the now prevailing wage in New York for the workers need to meet the February deadline.

   And so it will be April, they say. Does the UN not have the money? Or does it have other priorities? This will be pursued.

   Many other questions were asked, and some answered. While some wire services are slated to return to large private offices, others are not.

   The issue was raised, and double standards identified including separate office spaces for three ostensibly independent outlets run by the same government’s foreign service.

   In response, FUNCA was told that it is still a live issue. Here’s hoping for the appropriate resolution.

    In terms of the lack of space for journalists, FUNCA pointed to the absurdity of UNCA being slated to get an “UNCA Club” — which should be renamed and be open to all — an “UNCA Office” and even an “UNCA Pantry.”

   This last is apparently only the designation in the blueprints. It was said the “Club” will be open to all. But it must be re-named.

  Likewise, after complaints last fall and Thursday, the formal on the record response was that in the future, passes for resident correspondents to cover the General Assembly will no longer be distributed through UNCA, but through the Documents Center. For this belated reform we are appreciative.

  Access to photo opportunities, argued for by a long time photographer who since being told only “wire services” could attend took to boycotting Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s events, was on Thursday guaranteed, even if it means two separate entries of photographers. Likewise, Ban’s New York City events will be disclosed in advance by the UN, in the Media Alert.

  Disclosure was the theme: FUNCA asked to be informed of all denials or revocations of accreditation. Cases of a television cameraman disaccredited for a single mistakes were raised, as well as a critical journalist who was told the UN does not accredit freelancers. This will be tested, we predict by the National Writers Union.

   A complaint filed with the UN by the New York Civil Liberties Union, to disaccreditation request filed by Voice of America which said that Reuters and Agence France-Presse supported it, was reportedly responded to.  The actual response has not been provided but will be requested again, as FUNCA. But such censorship, or non content neutral, dis-accrediation bids will be even more actively opposed by FUNCA in the future.

  More was said, but on other topics in an abundance of caution we will await DPI’s promised written on the record answers.

  What FUNCA told the UN, on the record, is that UNCA went too far in not only not defending but actively seeking to expel and dis-accredit investigative press, and there is no going back. 

   Going forward, DPI was told that FUNCA intends to be an ongoing mechanism to defend the rights of journalists to report from, and get answers from, the UN. FUNCA commended DPI for organizing so far three “brown bag” presentations for UN officials like today’s on Syria, and earlier by the Under Secretaries General for Security and for the Prevention of Genocide.

   The refusal for the USG for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien to ever answer questions was bemoaned. But will her replacement do better? And what will happen to the USG for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous, who had his spokesman physically seize the UN TV microphone to avoid a Press question about rapes in Minova by the Congolese Army, Ladsous partners?

  Ladsous’ spokesman — but apparently not Ladsous — has it emerged been told that was inappropriate. But what of Ladsous and his refusal to answer?

  What of a sense among many at the UN that there are double standards, favoritism in question granting and answering? FUNCA is on the case – watch this site.