By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, January 7 – The United Nations at the beginning of 2017 still has no Freedom of Information Act, no content neutral standards for media accreditation and no right to due process or appeal for journalists. This is UNacceptable.
New UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres should be expected to address these issues, and to hold at least monthly sit-down press conferences. On January 6 holdover spokesman Stephane Dujarric indicated he would wait for something to announce. But Q&A should not be tied to a particular UN announcement.
Downgrading to non-resident correspondent status, and eviction from UN work-space, is not a legitimate way to respond to coverage of UN irregularities and corruption such as that alleged in the ongoing Ng Lap Seng / John Ashe UN bribery case. It must be reversed, but also non-resident correspondents should not be restricted to minders or escorts to cover events on the Conference Building's second floor.
On January 6, Dujarric and DPI's Cristina Gallach led Guterres on a tour that implied that only those who pay money to a group which last month gave an award to anti-press Ban Ki-moon, and who are granted (and not evicted in retaliation from) UN office space are part of the UN press corps. Click here for Inner City Press' story, and YouTube video. This will ill-serve Guterres, and the UN.
New SG Guterres is toured around by Gallach & Dujarric, Jan 6, 2017, photo by M.R. Lee
Beyond headquarters, the UN in the field must become more responsive to local journalists. A Free UN Coalition for Accessmember in Hargeisa, Somaliland complains that the UN in Mogadishu refuses to answer simple journalistic questions. The same has occurred in Colombia, while the UN's leadership in Kenya has informed staff not to speak to particular media. This is UNacceptable.
That former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, among his very first acts upon leaving the UN, took legal action against reports of possible corruption during his tenure reflects badly on the UN.
FUNCA hopes for a better 2017, but hope is not enough. The UN needs a FOIA, a reversal of recent anti-press decisions and due process and content neutral standards, and at least monthly Secretary General press conferences, going forward. We will have more on this; watch this site.