Thursday, November 11, 2010

Al Jazeera reporter denied access to G-20 Seoul summit

by Kim Hyun
via Yonhap NA, Seoul, Korea
A reporter from Al Jazeera, a major Arabic-language news network, said Friday that he was denied entry to the venue of the G-20 summit in Seoul and claimed the denial may have been for political reasons.
Fadi Salameh, a Syrian-born reporter now based in Tokyo, was told he was not allowed to cover the summit when he went to pick up his press pass on Thursday at the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX), the venue of the global forum.
"I got the affirmation email for my registration," Salameh, now staying at a hotel in southern Seoul, said over the phone. "I got my visa, a C1 journalist visa, very smoothly, and there was no problem about entering the country."
Salameh said a security official told him he was denied entry because of his past record of unauthorized access to a Northeast Asian summit in late May. He had entered the summit venue of the South Korea-Japan-China summit without a proper press ID, which security later discovered on his way out.
"I had missed the deadline for applying for an ID card. But they let me in anyway," he said.
But the Syrian reporter believes the access denial has to do with political reasons. In the Jeju summit in May, his main interest was getting Chinese reactions to the sinking of a South Korean ship earlier that month blamed on North Korea. Salameh claims the way he covered the ship sinking story must have irritated the South Korean security authorities.
A South Korean-led international investigation had concluded that North Korea attacked the Cheonan with a torpedo, killing 46 South Korean sailors. North Korea denies any involvement.
"A journalist has to take a neutral stance," he said. "I think the whole problem was with the security officer (in Jeju) who wanted me to cover North Korea negatively."
Ahn Byeong-ho, an official at the G-20 preparation committee, said he could not give details nor was he aware of Salameh's case. A journalist can be denied entry to the summit if he or she has a security problem, he said.
For foreign journalists applying for a press pass, the committee goes through a security check with the embassy of their nationality before issuing them the card.
"But even after the security check was done with the embassy, something problematic may have been found with him," Ahn said. "But the security authorities usually don't give specifics on those things."
This was not Salameh's first to Seoul. He says he interviewed Ban Ki-moon, now secretary-general of the United Nations, when Ban was foreign minister and was invited to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae in 2007 by then President Roh Moo-hyun, who hosted a luncheon for foreign journalists who covered his inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il that year.
Salameh was to cover the G-20 summit for Al Jazeera's Arabic-language news. His colleagues in the English-language news service were allowed entry to the summit.