UN Credentialing Limits Reporters' Access to Copenhagen Talks
Non-profit media, online media, freelancers, student journalists, and even some mainstream media are having trouble getting credentials to cover the climate treaty talks in
While one root of the problem may be too many reporters trying to fill too little space, obsolete and conservative policies in the U.N. bureaucracy may be hindering journalists' access to the talks.
The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change press operation announced this week that it is suspending issuance of press credentials for the talks because the number of reporters applying has exceeded the capacity of the building. UNFCCC says it will review the situation as the meeting opens, to see whether no-shows allow it to squeeze a few more in. But chances of getting in for reporters whose applications have not been approved to date seem slim to none.
A key issue is whether non-profits, bloggers, and freelancers are truly legitimate media. As print dailies, TV networks, and even news services severely cut their staffs and overseas operations, the former outsiders may be doing as much climate coverage as the mainstream media. So systematically excluding them from covering the
Yet according to WatchDog interviews with a number of journalists who have been refused credentials by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change press operation, that is just what is going on. Journalists denied credentials have been told in writing that the reason is that they work for non-profits or publications that are exclusively online.
Discriminating this way among journalists and media organizations can affect how the news at the talks is covered. Many of the most experienced journalists, with the deepest and most specialized knowledge of climate science and diplomacy, work for non-profits and online media. Excluding them leaves coverage to be dominated by general assignment reporters — who may be more likely to misunderstand the story — and whose misunderstanding may be amplified by their larger audiences.
Journalists whose credential applications are pending — much less those who have credentials -- told the WatchDog they are highly reluctant to speak critically of the UNFCCC press apparatus because they fear it could bias UNFCCC officials against them. The criteria used by UNFCCC have not always been consistent.
One outlet told the WatchDog of having a group of its reporters who applied early get credentials easily — but meeting with difficulties when it asked UNFCCC to credential one more reporter in the past month. Editors at that publication viewed the change as arbitrary.
Most stories of credentials being denied have cropped up since the beginning of November. There may be a reason.
As the December date of the
Many journalists who cover climate regularly applied for their credentials months ago — indeed, some were previously credentialed by the UNFCCC for previous sessions of the talks in
UNFCCC says it has received over 5,000 requests for credentials from journalists, and that the total capacity of the building — for journalists, delegates, international groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is 15,000.
A press badge is required to get through the security perimeter at the
Limitations on press access will only serve to shift the story to realms outside the meeting rooms of the
Some excluded journalists are shifting to the "Fresh Air Center," a media facility operated by the advocacy coalition "tcktcktck." The group describes it as "a rapid response digital media hub in
The criteria used by the UNFCCC secretariat may serve to credential preferentially media with particular viewpoints while excluding others less in the mainstream. For example, the WatchDog has been told that all applications from Democracy Now! — a progressive radio network — were rejected.
The UNFCCC press office uses criteria nearly identical to those used for the UN as a whole — and those are considered conservative by those familiar with them. A fuller explanation of the criteria is available at this UNFCCC site.
UN rules do not allow a person to be credentialed in two categories — media and NGO, for example, or media and delegate.
Because of the tight restrictions on media credentials, some working journalists have found credentials under NGO auspices.