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New rules emphasise tactful openness with the media

The UN on Monday committed itself to being open and transparent in its dealings with the media and affirmed that, "as a matter of principle, every member of the Secretariat may speak to the press", though "within limits." In launching its new, written guidelines for relations with the media, the UN emphasised that UN media policy needed to "balance the need to be open and the need to respect confidentiality" or "protect a diplomatic process", and instructed staff to speak only within their areas of competence and responsibility; to provide facts, and not opinion or comment; and to leave sensitive issues to officials specifically authorised to speak on them.

The guidelines, received by IRIN on Tuesday, stated that UN staff should normally speak to journalists "on the record - that is, for attribution", but allowed that those authorised to address sensitive issues could give a journalist a deeper background briefing. In those cases, staff members should make clear to the journalists concerned the basis on which conversations are being held, either not for attribution (other than to cite "a UN official", for instance) or on deep background (to be used only for ideas and not attributable at all). The new rules were broadly welcomed by the 'New York Times' as an apparent improvement in an organisation it claimed "has often been extremely secretive about even the most mundane of information," though it noted a potential landmine in the advice that "officials should not feel they have to answer every question, in particular any hypothetical ones."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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