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Rift Deepens Over UN Security Council Press Access

Diplomats meet the press at the old "stakeout" site outside the UN Security Council chambers.

Diplomats meet the press at the old "stakeout" site outside the UN Security Council chambers.

We reported earlier that the relocation of the UN Security Council chambers to a basement area of UN headquarters in New York has brought new restrictions on media access.

Those restrictions have now not only been formalized but expanded. Armed security guards have been positioned at the entrance to the new chambers.

In a memo from Japan’s permanent mission to the UN (Japan is the current president of the Security Council), UN-based reporters have been told that from now on they will have to stay in a restricted perimeter near the entrance to the council chambers. They will not be allowed to mingle with diplomats, as was customary at the old Security Council "stakeout" area on the second floor of the UN Secretariat building.

Reporters may have access to the diplomats' lounge, the memo says, but only if a specific council diplomat desires a meeting and specifically invites a reporter.

Well, good luck with that.

No one seems to know for sure how these restrictions came to be.

Matthew R. Lee of the "Inner City Press" blog points to Gregory Starr, a top UN security official who has been pushing for restrictions because, in his view, the presence of reporters near diplomats' limousines would have posed a security threat. Starr’s previous job was the head of security for the U.S. State Department.

Martin Nesirky, the UN secretary-general’s spokesperson, is no longer answering questions related to press access, referring all inquiries to the Security Council president.

Ironically, the spokesperson’s office is also a victim of the new restrictions. Previously, a staffer from the office attended Security Council debates and took notes. This is no longer allowed.

The presence of armed guards at the entrance to the council seems excessive. It is not possible to approach the area without a valid UN press card, which is only issued after rigorous security checks have been conducted.

Apparently, not all Security Council members are happy with the restrictions and with the wide coverage they have received in the media.

Colum Lynch of "Foreign Policy's" "Turtle Bay" blog reports that at least three of the council’s five permanent members -- Britain, France, and the United States -- have distanced themselves from the press-access memo. China and Russia, the other two permanent members, are for the time being keeping mum on the subject.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog that deals almost exclusively with authoritarian regimes, has found itself in the odd position of expressing concern about the actions of a UN body that should be viewed as a beacon for human rights and press freedom.

Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director, calls the new UN restrictions “hypocritical."

Giampaolo Pioli, the president of the United Nations Correspondent Association (UNCA), wrote a letter to the Security Council on April 22, asking for “common sense to prevail" and an end to the dispute.

-- Nikola Krastev

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