Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UN Blocks Press From Rwanda Minister Photo Op, of DSG and UN Women, Bloggers Blocked Too?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 19 -- The UN on Monday barred any media except its own UN Photo unit from the beginning of a meeting between Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro and Louise Mushikiwabo, the Foreign Minister of Rwanda who is a finalist to head the UN Women agency.

Inner City Press has exclusively reported the candidacy of Ms. Mushikiwabo to take the UN Women top post, about which Inner City Press asked DSG Migiro on July 16. When DSG Migiro's official schedule for July 19 included a 5:30 meeting with Ms. Mushikiwabo, Inner City Press went to cover it with UN Photo.

There was without question a photo op: UN Photo had been asked to come to memorialize the meeting. But Inner City Press was told to place a separate call to UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, to gain access. MALU called and was told that the meeting was open -- it had to be, since UN Photo would be there. MALU sent a staff member to the North Lawn building, who summoned a UN Security officer to screen Inner City Press.

Upstairs, in the DSG's conference room with its view of the East River, Ms. Mushikiwabo and her staff arrived first. It was noted that DSG Migiro does not like chairs in the photo op, so chairs were dragged to the side. Inner City Press took a photograph, but was told by Ms. Mushikiwabo's colleague “don't take photos yet.”

There was a pause -- Inner City Press followed the rules and did not even try to ask about UN Women -- and then the MALU staffer was summoned into the hall. What could the problem be?

When the MALU staffer returned, he told Inner City Press to leave. No explanation was given.

“We don't mind if you stay and take pictures,” Minister Mushikiwabo said.

“It's not up to them,” Inner City Press was told. It was the UN's call, to restrict even this photo op to the UN's own in-house media. There are totalitarian states that operate this way. Ironically, Rwanda and Mushikiwabo favor restrictions on the press. But the UN?

One might surmise that the UN's paranoia in this case means that Ms. Mushikiwabo is actually quite close to the job. But it could just be paranoia. Watch this site.

Footnote: in other UN versus the press news, while Inner City Press earlier reported that the UN Department of Public Information was near to finally including bloggers in its accreditation guidelines, for now that has been blocked by UN DPI. The UN Correspondents Association, after an internal discussion including Inner City Press, submitted a series of proposed changes to the accreditation guidelines to DPI, with the word “blogger” included.

DPI accepted all of the changes EXCEPT bloggers. This version was nearly finalized on July 16, until objection was raised. Now it appears that UNCA will meet again, and DPI and its chief -- and “blogger” -- Kiyotaka Akasaka will be asked to explain their aversion to including bloggers. Watch this site.

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