Independent journalists denied access to Copenhagen climate talks
December 7, 2009
COPENHAGEN -- Climate change has become the story of the decade and probably the century. So it’s no surprise that the global climate negotiations beginning here today are making the headlines of nearly every major news organization in the world. With thousands of journalists in attendance, the conference seemed at low risk of going underreported. Or so I imagined.
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Late last night, I stood in line to receive my press pass to cover the negotiations. I was glad to have access to the front lines of the climate debate and the resources to report it. Imagine, then, the surprise I felt upon arriving at the press desk only to learn that my accreditation had been rescinded. The reason given: the UN had accredited too many journalists.
Incredulous, I showed the UN official, a man in his mid-20s, a copy of the email I received from the UN press office just a few weeks earlier. It contained three simple words: “Received and approved,” followed by directions for collecting my press pass. The man behind the counter glanced at the paper and told me he would be back in a few moments. He returned with a simple message: We are very sorry, but our records show that you have been denied, and we cannot provide you accreditation at this time.
Excuse me? Really? I flew almost 5,000 miles from the Pacific Northwest to Copenhagen to be denied access to an event I have spent half a year preparing for? Standing next to me was our video journalist, Blair Kelly, who took the email from his hands and told him to get his supervisor.
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A few moments later, a woman emerged from behind the canvas that separated the UN officials from the throng of delegates, journalists and observers.
Our accreditation, she explained, had been approved by a separate organization, the Fresh Air Center. The center lobbies for independent journalists and provides them with resources such as interview spaces and access to the internet. The UN officials said the Center’s decision to accredit me had been made before the UN reviewed the application.
She added that another problem with my application is that I am a college student. Had this not been the case, I likely would have been accredited, she said. However, she had no explanation for why two members of our InvestigateWest team who are professionals also were denied credentials.
We asked if there would be any later opportunity to apply for a press pass. We had done our research, and knew that the UN press website advertised a late credentialing phase for those who were not yet accredited. Once again, they were very sorry; the late accreditation phase was no longer an option, as the size of the UN delegation’s personal media was larger than the press office anticipated, she said.
Our best hope, according to her, was to apply again, but this time as observers through a non-governmental organization. (We tried that later. It didn’t work.)
We walked through the lobby of the Bella Center wondering: What just happened? Our ability to report on the talks was wholly dependent on having unimpeded access to those directly involved in the negotiations. Moving through the final security checkpoint, we knew we would not enter the Bella Center again, and then it dawned on us: We were pushed out of the conference not because of a priority for senior reporters, but by the inclusion of journalists picked by the delegates themselves.
We’re still looking into this, but it appears that legitimate, independent journalists, have been pushed aside for a delegate’s media entourage. Stay tuned.
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