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Press Restrictions by UN Security Council Come from 2 Permanent Members, UN Source Says, US, France and Russia Eyed, Even Ban Excluded

[Inner City Press, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 09:00 No Comment]

Following complaints Monday by at least two UN Security Council members about "involuntary interaction" with the media and non-Council member states, incoming Council president Yukio Takasu of Japan faced a series of questions about restrictions on press access.

Inner City Press asked Takasu to confirm that in the morning’s consultations, two Permanent members had said non-Council member states should wait out by the staircase, and the press be confined behind the staircase. Video here, from Minute 18:06.

  Ambassador Takasu, who had earlier spoken about the need for transparency, did not answer about the meeting, but said access should be "equivalent" at before the Council moved to the UN basement from its longtime home on the second floor.

But Ambassador Takasu, tellingly, also spoke of Council members’ desire to leave the consultation room "without being seen." Is this transparency or invisibility, one wag questioned.

Inner City Press, which reported exclusively Monday morning on the Council’s closed door meeting and move to push the press further away, has since learned that the concerned raised in the meeting including a move to bar representatives of the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary General from the consultations room.

Beyond press freedom and access, then, this is a question of separation of powers. Inner City Press at Monday’s noon briefing asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe who controls UN Security and the building: the Secretariat or the Security Council? Video here.

Member states, Ms. Okabe answered. But, Inner City Press followed up, does this mean merely the 15 states on the Council, just the Permanent Five members, or the full UN membership of 192? Ms. Okabe declined to answer, saying that meetings were being set up.

But from the first of these meetings, the UN correspondents were banned. And a request to meet with the Japanese Mission, since they hold this month’s Council presidency, was rejected by the Secretariat’s Security Council Affairs unit, which said both that the complaints came from among Permanent members, and that these members are the ones to decide, since they remain on the Council.

Several correspondents guessed that the move to restrict access came, perhaps surprisingly, from the U.S. Mission. Ambassador Susan Rice is known to have been incensed at the leak last year — again, to Inner City Press — of a draft resolution to impose sanctions on North Korea. Correspondents note that unlike other P-5 Ambassadors, Susan Rice keeps a number of body guards between herself and the press corps.

France’s Gerard Araud is at times acerbic toward the press. The UK’s Mark Lyall Grant is businesslike, conducting recent stakeouts on Myanmar — which he called Burma — and Sri Lanka. Russia’s Vitaly Churkin often jokes, how ever gruffly, with the press, and Chinese’s recently arrived Ambassador Li Baodong has already held a free wheeling stakeout. These could all be public faces for closed door push-back at the press. One reporter surmised that the complaint may have been triggered by questions — or rather, "good mornings" — directed Monday morning to Ambassadors Li and Araud. We will crack this case. Watch this site.

  Our take: whichever of the Permanent Five is trying to push non-Council membes and the press away, they should step forward, and not use mid-level UN Secretariat staff as their mouthpiece. If the U.S. Mission, as the U.S. Constitution, is committed to freedom of the press and access to public servants, the U.S. should become the most vocal in ensuring continued press access. The UK and France also speak about press freedom. And where is Ban Ki-moon and his team on all this?

[Full Coverage]

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