The event, hosted by the United Nations, was titled “Finding Security in Unsafe Passages: United Nations Event about Protecting Journalists’ Safety and Rights.” The panel was expected to discuss a wide range of issues facing journalists today.
Ironically, four journalists were barred from the event, citing an issue with press authorization through UN security. One of those journalists, Aisling Brennan, was contacted by Festival spokeswoman Kyla McMillan on the morning of the event to be notified that she was being denied entry.
“Please accept my sincere apologies—the UN requires that all press visiting the headquarters, for any event, have an official UN press pass. Due to a miscommunication, we’ve not been able to secure this for you in time,” McMillan informed Brennan.
“It seems that due to a snafu with these UN rules (that we were not aware of until late last night), it won’t be possible to add anyone else on to the list. I am really sorry, and as I said, it does seem extremely odd to be keeping press out of the event,” she added.
The director of PEN’s Free Expression Program, Karin Deutsch Karlekar, was one of the panelists at the United Nations event and spoke out about the odd decision to block members of the press from attending.
“One would think the more coverage for these types of issues would be better because these are really serious issues that journalists are facing,” Ms. Deutsch Karlekar told Brennan, “so discouraging journalists from covering the event just seems odd.”
Restricting the flow of information
The decision to block journalists from the PEN Festival comes just days after members of the media decried limitations placed on them by Baltimore police, who restricted journalists to a small press pen after the city’s mandatory 10:00 PM curfew began. This prevented them from documenting anything taking place in other areas of the city.
The PEN American Center has previously spoken out against abuses such as these as well as blocking access to information, after the abuse of press that occurred during mass unrest in Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed by police.
On October 27, 2014, the PEN American Center released a 40 page report on the violations of press freedom that they documented and called for a Department of Justice investigation.
“Interference with press freedoms in Ferguson is troubling both because it suggests a lack of respect on the part of the police for the role of the media, and because it restricts the flow of information about police conduct in Ferguson to the general public, hindering democratic debate about the range of policy and social issues at stake in the Ferguson demonstrations,” the report read.