Will Ban Ki-moon start charging journalists rent?
Last week, the United Nations informed the U.N. press corps that when the renovation of the U.N.’s landmark headquarters building is completed and reporters return to their offices, they may, for the first time, have to pay for the privilege. In search of new revenue sources, the U.N. is turning to its journalists. But the ...
Last week, the United Nations informed the U.N. press corps that when the renovation of the U.N.'s landmark headquarters building is completed and reporters return to their offices, they may, for the first time, have to pay for the privilege. In search of new revenue sources, the U.N. is turning to its journalists.
Last week, the United Nations informed the U.N. press corps that when the renovation of the U.N.’s landmark headquarters building is completed and reporters return to their offices, they may, for the first time, have to pay for the privilege. In search of new revenue sources, the U.N. is turning to its journalists.
But the U.N. Correspondents Association (UNCA), which represents more than 200 U.N.-based journalists (excluding this one), has fired off a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, warning that a proposal to consider new fees at a time of financial stress in the industry "will drive most members of the press out of the U.N." The press club also objected to a proposal by the U.N management that they claim would slash the U.N. press corps space by more than 30 percent and create an open floor plan in the new press quarters, making it impossible for competing press operations to report confidentiality.
"The U.N. Correspondents Association is writing to you directly because the survival of viable press corps at the United Nations is at stake," according to the letter, written by Giampaolo Pioli and Louis Charbonneau on behalf of the UNCA. "If the proposals of the Capital Master Plan and U.N. management for our permanent offices in the renovated Secretariat Building are realized, a robust U.N. press corps will become a thing of the past and the U.N. will lose its principal means of getting its message out to the citizens of its 192 member states."
The U.N. maintains that that the organization is facing increased costs of housing U.N. officials in off-campus rental building, and is looking to offset some of those costs by charging reporters for rent. Last year, Adlerstein, a New York architect who is overseeing the renovation, noted that media organizations are required to pay rent on their foreign bureaus. The decision to include an open floor plan in the press area, he noted, is consistent with the overall design philosophy of the renovated building, which is intended to eliminate closed off rooms throughout the 39-story building.
The press corps moved out of the U.N. headquarters building earlier this year and more than 220 print, online, radio, and television reporters are currently housed in a temporary maze of cubicles in the organization’s library building. They are expected to return to their old quarters when the renovation is completed.
The dispute with U.N. management comes as the press corps have already seen its access to newsmakers diminished as a result of the headquarters renovation, and efforts by some member states to limit press access to the U.N. Security Council’s deliberations. The U.N. press club has appealed to Ban for understanding.
The UNCA letter said there is a "growing lack of confidence" in Adlerstein and the U.N.’s management chief, Angela Kane. "We feel [they] do not consider proper working conditions for a free and functioning press to be anything resembling a priority," the letter stated. "Perhaps the problem is that the people making decisions on what to do with the press have little or no idea how we work."
"We are not asking for much, just what we had before the move — that is, closed office spaces that are soundproofed, properly wired and adequately sized. We ask you to stand with us and tell your management not to go down a road that will lead to the destruction of the U.N. press corps and transform the United Nations into just another international organization that only makes headlines when bedbugs are found there."
Ban, Kane and Adlerstein did not respond to requests for comment. But one U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the organization expects long negotiations before the dispute is settled.
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Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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