Sunday was World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations’ celebration of the media’s vital role in an open society, and an attempt to promote a free press in countries where that right is not yet appropriately valued.
Few rights are more important than the freedom of the press. But few organizations are more poorly suited to promote that right than the United Nations.
While a core function of the UN is to promote and protect press freedom worldwide, the United Nations is one of the most serious threats to a free press in the world today. The organization blacklists journalists, bans reporters from its events and tries to silence the media, all while urging countries throughout the world to embrace freedom of the press.
Simply put, the UN is despicably hypocritical on the issue of press freedom.
I know. I’ve seen the UN’s attacks on the media firsthand.
I joined dozens of other members of the media from around the globe in Moscow last October to cover a tobacco control meeting held by the UN’s public health arm, the World Health Organization. Journalists were told the conference would be open to the media – as it should have been, since the body was discussing matters of public health, international business regulations and global tax law at great expense to the global taxpayers who helped to fund the event.
Moments before discussions concerning a controversial proposed international tobacco tax began, however, journalists – including me – were threatened and physically removed from a meeting room so we could not report on the proceedings. The next day, the WHO banned journalists from the conference completely. Discussions proceeded in secret, behind closed doors, with no oversight and no accountability.
Chillingly, this type of assault on the freedom of the press is nothing new for the UN.
In September 2014, UN Peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous prevented reporters from filming a public question and answer session in Sudan by obstructing cameras with file folders. When that proved ineffective Ladsous cancelled the briefing altogether. UN officials later attempted to coerce a number of websites to remove videos taken at the aborted conference.
A few weeks later, during the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the UN was caught blacklisting a BuzzFeed reporter who criticized the WHO’s response to the crises. The UN blocked the journalist from receiving email updates about the WHO’s Ebola efforts and refused to respond to questions and interview requests.
The irony that one of the greatest menaces to freedom of the press hosted World Press Freedom Day did not go unnoticed by the leaders of a number of government watchdog groups, taxpayer organizations and freedom-oriented think tanks. More than 35 organizations representing 17 countries from six continents joined to sign an open letter condemning the UN for denying freedom of the press.
The letter demands that the UN explain why it fails to uphold the same standards of press freedom it expects from its member nations, and calls on governments to end funding to the United Nations as long as the organization operates “behind closed doors, absent openness and transparency.”
It is exciting that watchdogs organizations and outside groups are beginning to discover what many members of the media have known for years: The UN is a fraud of the highest order when it comes to press freedom.
The UN should be the greatest global advocate for the freedom of the press. Instead, the organization is one of the world’s most serious threats to press freedom. If the United Nations wants to prove it is serious about protecting press freedom, it should start by taking a look in the mirror and ending its shameful attempts to silence journalists.
Drew Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and a columnist at the Washington Times.