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Russia urges action against Reuters, envoys over UN leaks

Russia threatened to call for Reuters correspondents and some diplomats at the United Nations to be stripped of their accreditation because of leaks of confidential information from a closed Security Council briefing on Syria.

Moscow’s ambassador Vitaly Churkin was angry that some diplomats conveyed to Reuters that the UN-Arab League mediator for the Syrian conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the Council on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had accepted Brahimi’s plan for an Eid holiday ceasefire.

The Russian envoy complained to Council representatives in New York that confidential accounts of the briefing were being electronically transmitted to reporters outside the room, who then broadcast the news on Twitter and other news outlets. Reuters filed a report of the meeting before it was over.

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 UN Secretariat take steps to investigate the leak.

“It’s a shame that somebody’s feeding information, or disinformation, to Reuters from the consultation room of the Security Council. This is a scandalous thing, we have seen this before. I hope they are paid well,” Churkin told reporters.

A Reuters spokesperson said the organisation adhered to the highest standards in reporting the story. “It is fair and accurate and we stand by it.”

Despite his frustration at the leak, Churkin confirmed the Reuters story in comments to reporters at the Security Council media stakeout after the briefing on the Syrian conflict had finished. Churkin, a former Soviet government spokesman, also said Russia had raised the issue during the meeting and asked the UN secretariat to investigate.

“We believe that this is a gross violation of professional ethics so we’ll be fighting that, if need be by stripping those who are resorting to this of UN accreditation,” Churkin said. “We don’t want to have another Murdoch soap opera in the United Nations,” he said, apparently referring to the phone-hacking scandal that engulfed News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire.

Other Security Council delegations, including the United States, have complained in the past about leaks from closed meetings to the media, though none has called for reporters or diplomats to lose their accreditation over it.

A diplomat present at the Syria briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Churkin had told the Council it was illegal to report on confidential consultations. “He completely lost it,” the diplomat told Reuters. Other envoys confirmed his remarks.

Robert Mahoney, a former Reuters editor who is now deputy director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said confidential sources were the key to reporters covering various beats, including international diplomacy. “Journalists and news organizations should not be intimidated for doing their job, especially when covering organizations whose mandate is to defend freedom of expression,” he said in a statement. ■