Help, the Russians are out to get me! (Colum Lynch 24/10/2012)

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, angered by real-time press leaks from a closed door Security Council meeting on Syria, threatened to urge the United Nations to strip the credentials of journalists who report on the content of confidential meetings.

The Russian envoy complained to representatives of the 15-nation council that confidential accounts of today’s briefing by Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, were being electronically transmitted to reporters outside the room, who then broadcast the news on Twitter and other news outlets. He also protested the recent leak of numerous confidential draft statements Moscow circulated to the council earlier this week on Libya and Syria.

In order to stop such leaks in the future, Churkin recommended that fewer diplomats be allowed into the Security Council chamber, and asked that the U.N. Secretariat take steps to investigate the leak. Churkin also proposed that U.N. Security Council diplomats be prohibited from bringing cell phones into the Security Council sessions, preventing them from sending out emails, tweets, or text messages to reporters.

Churkin singled out the British news agency, Reuters, for sending out a news flash reporting that Brahimi had confirmed that President Bashar al-Assad would honor an Eid el-Adha cease fire later this week.  The report, which was published before the session had concluded, prompted Churkin to propose that Reuters’ news credentials be taken away throughout the course of the Syria conflict.

« We don’t want another Murdoch soap opera in the United Nations, » Churkin told reporters after the meeting, referring to a British press scandal involving illegal wiretaps by reporters in Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire. « We believe that this is a gross violation of professional ethics. And so well be fighting that, if need be, by stripping those who are resorting to this [of their] U.N. accreditation. »

Churkin, who once served as a press spokesman for the Soviet Union, said: « I respect freedom of the media and I think we need to be open. But the payoff for that is that the media needs to respect the confidentiality of the world of the Security Council. »

Issues debated within the Security Council’s closed-doors proceedings have traditionally leaked to the press — in fact, almost immediately after the session has concluded. In fact, most Security Council ambassadors, including Churkin, typically brief the press on the contents of closed-door deliberations as soon as the meeting ends

But with the advent of Twitter, U.N. reporters have been tweeting news from Security Council meetings almost in real time. Following Churkin’s outburst, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., noted that the United States also had concerns about the leaks, citing her frustration over the recent reports on the Security Council’s decision to cancel a trip to Afghanistan.

But she said the problem was not reporters, but the diplomats who divulge the content of closed-door proceedings to the press. Rice said that the United States and Russia have « different understanding of freedom of the press » and that the council shouldn’t go after the press « because they are doing their job. She made very clear she didn’t see stripping credentials as the proper way to deal with this. »

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