Credit the UN that despite the many veils of secrecy at Turtle Bay, there is at least a ritual noon press briefing, at which reporters may not always get real answers, but at least they get to ask real questions (where is that Mercedes?).
But this past Monday the briefing turned into a master-class in how to hold a press conference while avoiding almost all questions from the press. The much-anticipated and well-attended event was a guest appearance at the noon briefing by Under-Secretary-General Alicia Barcena — who in early January took charge of the important and scandal-plagued UN Department of Management, which handles billions in UN purchasing and oversees such vital matters as UN administrative reform. Reporters had been asking for weeks for a press conference with Barcena, who among other things is supposed to be implementing the Secretary-General’s promises of greater transparency at the UN.
Here, at last, was the chance … but here’s how it played out.
The noon briefing did not begin at noon, but at about 12:13 PM, when UN Spokeswoman Michele Montas arrived late and began reading a long list of annoucements. She then took a series of questions. That went on for about 22 minutes. Finally, at about 12:35, Barcena took the podium. She spent 11 minutes talking in general terms about UN reform.
By then, the time was roughly 12:46 PM. The room had somehow been scheduled to be turned over at 1:00 PM for a press briefing by Her Excellency Natalya Petkevich, Deputy Head of Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus. Apparently, while the noon briefing does not have to begin at noon, it was vital that the 1:00 PM Belarus briefing begin on the dot.
That left all of about 13 minutes for Barcena to take about four questions, before explaining she would love to do it all again, and bustling out of the press room.
Here’s the webcast (scroll down to the March 5 briefing). The entire experience took 47 minutes, 22 seconds — in its way, a work of art.