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Department of Public Information Enters Press Office Without Consent, UNCA Takes Photos: What Are the Rights of Journalists at the UN?

Department of Public Information Enters Press Office Without Consent, UNCA Takes Photos: What Are the Rights of Journalists at the UN?

“A week after Reuters and AFP filed complaints against Inner City Press for having called them lapdogs of UN officials, and a three days after the UN declined to provide a copy of the complaints, UN officials entered Inner City Press’ office at the UN without permission and took photographs.When Inner City Press, notified by another member of the Free UN Coalition for Access, arrived on the scene, the officials were inside its office, going through papers. In the hallway, the president of the UN Correspondents Association, Pamela Falk of CBS, took cell phone photographs.”

Free United Nations Coalition for Access

By Matthew Russell Lee

March 20, 2013

In a new low, the office of Inner City Press was entered by Department of Public Information (DPI) on March 18 without consent or notice, and photographers were taken. In fact, United Nations Coalition for Access (UNCA) President Pamela Falk was on the scene, taking her own photographs.

What are the rights of UN correspondents to be secure in the papers at the UN? It would have been easy for DPI to contact Inner City Press, which attended a DPI “brown bag” on Afghanistan at 8:30 am, an Arms Trade Treaty press conference at 11 am, the noon briefing and then worked at UNSC stakeout. But without contact, the office was entered, and UNCA’s President took photos.

The Free UN Coalition for Access has complained, and at the March 19 UN noon briefing the question was raised (including about a UN demand that a video just after the raid be removed from YouTube.) But as to UNCA’s President’s presence taking photos, no answer was been offered.

What are correspondents’ rights? DPI has yet to act on the 10 needed reforms sent to it on Feb 10 by FUNCA, the UN’s lack of due process rules raised in mid 2012 by the NY Civil Liberties Union has now allowed a new abuse.

On March 11 and again on March 15, the UN demanded a written response from the Press to complaints by AFP and Reuters correspondents Tim Witcher and Michelle Nichols respectively without providing a copy of the complaint.

FUNCA has asked the chief of DPI to state what the rules are. He referred the nine questions to Media Accreditation overseer Stephane Dujarric, who of the nine issues denied two, dodged two, deferred on two and ignored three. On March 18 DPI’s chief listened, but no change yet on rules including due process. Welcome to the UN.

For DPKO chief Herve Ladsous having his spokesman seize the UNTV microphone on Dec. 18 to avoid a question about the 126 Minova rapes by DRC Army, video here, the response has been to speak to DPKO’s spokesman. But Ladsous afteward half-answered ICP’s question to Ban to others.

In a February 27 letter he tersely stands behind, Dujarric said because of reporting on an on-the-record meeting involving the UN Club that cAnnot be named, “we question your ability to work together on solving substantive questions.” Mr. Dujarric’s complaint was false — it was stated to be on the record; another FUNCA attendee has informed Mr. Dujarric that it was clear the meeting was being taped. But there Dujarric stands. How can he then be the judge of others’ false complaints?

Ironically, things shouted by UNCA president Pamela Falk in front of Mr. Dujarric at the February 22 meeting he then chided reporting on were at least as insulting as “lapdog”, e.g. “mugger” & “you call yourself a journalist.” Yes. & it’s not for UNCA to say who’s a journalist.

In fairness to UN, its transcript of March 19, 2013 noon briefing:

Question: yesterday, right after the noon briefing here, my office upstairs was entered without any notification to me, and papers were searched, photographs were taken, and so I am left with the question that I am compelled to ask here: what are the rights of journalists? Also, the President of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) took photographs while this took place. What are the rights of journalists here to be secure in their papers? What was the role of UNCA in taking photographs and what safeguards are in place so that an inspection, even if characterized as something else, of an journalist’s office doesn’t in fact become essentially a raid where I could easily have been contacted, would have granted access? Why did this take place and what safeguards are in place?

Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Yesterday, a staff member with the Department of Public Information’s Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit visited your office to follow up with you on a question about the timing of the move-back date for the UN press corps to the Secretariat Building. On reaching the office, which was open, the staff member met with the Viet Nam News Agency correspondent who shares the office space with you. The staff member observed that there was a large volume of trash in the office, prompting her to contact Fire and Security personnel owing to serious concerns over potential safety, health and fire hazards. As I understand it, you subsequently disposed of the garbage that had accumulated in your part of the office. And just to answer your other part of the question, as a rule, DPI staff do not enter the offices occupied by correspondents unless there are circumstances necessitating such visits. And just to make it clear that DPI does not have the keys to those offices.

Question: Thanks a lot, I really appreciate that, I wanted to ask one follow-up. One, I am surprised that the UN Journal and other UN documents, many of which I threw out yesterday, were considered garbage. But my question is this: I have also received an e-mail this morning which asked me to remove from YouTube a video shot in my own office after the raid. When I arrived and found people going through my papers, I turned on the camera very openly, and I am wanting to know, by what right does the UN tell a journalist to remove from YouTube a video shot in their own office of what they perceive to be a search of their papers?

Spokesperson: I am not aware of the details of that, and I need to come back to you on that.

Also read: WATCH: AT UN, Evo Morales Denounces IMF, CNN, Old Order as UNCA Demands 1st Question