Note: I sent the following letter today to the UN Climate Change Secretariat. I’m publishing it in Climate Connections because I feel that people should be informed about what the UN says versus what it does in practice. I have been a concerned photographer for four decades. I mention this because I am an activist photographer who was on assignment for Z Magazine at the UN Climate Conference in Durban (I’m also the Co-Director/Strategist for Global Justice Ecology Project). I believe that telling the truth and providing facts to people so they can make informed decisions are two of the highest standards for the media and for activism. The photos below were not sent to the UN, they are only for this posting.-Orin Langelle
Elke Hoekstra-Team Assistant-Information Services
United Nations Climate Change Secretariat -Bonn, Germany
Dear Ms. Hoekstra,
I am a journalist who was accredited by the UN to participate in the 17th Conference Of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa. On 9 December 2011, I went to the Media Centre in the ICC UN compound to register an official complaint of mistreatment and censorship from an event that occurred on 8 December 2011. I was told by you to send an email and you would pass my complaint to the appropriate UN authorities.
Please send this letter to the appropriate UN authorities.
I am lodging a formal complaint against the UNFCCC for the treatment I received from one unidentified uniformed officer just after noon on 8 December; since he did not have on a badge I cannot name him. I am also lodging a formal complaint against a plainclothes security officer
who hid his badge when he stopped me after the first officer physically assaulted me by slamming my camera into my face after taking a photograph of him escorting a young man from the building who was arrested while giving an interview to the media following a press conference in which the young man had participated. He was evidently ejected for wearing a clown suit. Apparently a clown participating in an official press conference is a reason for being ejected from the UN grounds.
I attended COP 17 on assignment for Z Magazine. I have attached my Letter of Assignment. [Not relevant to this blog posting.] Your records will show that I have been a UNFCCC accredited journalist since 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I realize that by filing a formal complaint, I am potentially jeopardizing my “right” as a member of the media to be accredited by the UNFCCC to attend any further UN climate negotiations.
My responsibility as a journalist is to report the truth. I feel that it is also my responsibility to inform the UN of past statements written by the UN on the freedom of the press. My first notation is based on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written in 1948 that states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
I will now cite a UN News Centre release dated 3 May 2008 on the annual World Press Freedom Day:
When information flows freely, people are equipped with tools to take control of their lives,” noted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day, observed each year on 3 May. “When the flow of information is hindered – whether for political or technological reasons – our capacity to function is stunted.”
Mr. Ban stressed that a free, secure and independent media is one of the foundations of peace and democracy. Attacks on freedom of the press are attacks against international law, humanity, and freedom itself – everything the UN stands for, he said.
The release further states:
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, which was established by the UN in 1993, is “access to information and the empowerment of people.”
In his message on the occasion of the Day, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) – the body tasked with protecting freedom of expression – stressed that press freedom and access to information feed into the wider development objective of empowering people by giving people the information that can help them gain control over their own lives.
“This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and others accountable,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
Access to information is primordial to the exercise of the basic human right of freedom of expression, Mr. Matsuura added. To be free, the media need to have access to information. Such access is also indispensable in fighting corruption, which has been defined as the primary obstacle to development.
I urge you to read the entire UN communiqué which upholds the rights of freedom for the press: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26553&Cr=press
Furthermore, on 9 December 2011, I witnessed members of the media being shoved up a staircase to prevent them from reporting the actions of UN security who were ejecting people protesting the failing negotiations near a high level plenary room. Shoving the media, or anyone for that matter, up a staircase is dangerous and people could have been injured. That was clearly an act of censorship and reckless endangerment by UN security. I was in the midst of these journalists. I have a condition of chronic degenerative arthritis and scoliosis in my back and UN security actions could have caused further damage to these conditions.
I urge you to please take action on this formal complaint. This is not a frivolous grievance and I fully understand the dangers that journalists face in gathering news. A New York Times Opinion Page article, “A Dangerous Pursuit,” published 21 March 2011 reported “that more than 160 journalists have died in Iraq since the war began. That is more than both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam combined.”
I realize that I was not in a war zone, however with the UNFCCC failing to make any real progress in curtailing climate change and by depriving journalists the ability to report what goes on during these important meetings, I can only wonder how many climate deaths will occur because people do not have the facts needed to make informed decisions. I am afraid to think of that possibility. And I have no doubt that some of those deaths will be the fault of the UN.
I must ask, why is the UN afraid of the media documenting what happens in the UN? Media should not tolerate this type of censorship, nor should the UN tolerate it.
I have Cc:d Lydia Sargent, Editor of Z Magazine and Larry Goldbetter, the President of the National Writers Union.
International Federation of Journalists Card Nr. U S 1198
National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO) ID#83303