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Don’t Mess With The WHO’s Press Office…

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Or they’ll bust your kneecaps write catty press releases about you and drop you from their media contact list…

The World Health Organization plays hardball (of sorts) with journalists who run afoul of them.

Here’s what happened… In a November 29 piece, Celia Dugger of the New York Times reported that measles deaths in Africa have declined by 91% from 396,000 in 2000 to 36,000 in 2006.

Only it turns out those statistics were under a WHO press embargo.

In retribution, the WHO banned all Times reporters from speaking to the WHO for two weeks:

The agency went on saying that the New York Times had participated in an embargoed telebriefing on Thursday. It involved the story entitled “Sharp drop in deaths from measles reported.”

“After speaking to the reporter and assessing the circumstances surrounding the breach, WHO has decided that a two-week exclusion from our email list is a proportionate sanction. WHO communications staff have been asked not to brief any New York Times reporters during this period on any stories that are scheduled to be released through the WHO email distribution list,” a press release read.

“WHO takes embargoes very seriously. Breaches are a violation of this code of honour among journalists and between reporters and their sources. The Organization will determine appropriate sanctions on a case-by-case basis.”

Science journalist Ivan Oransky expressed wonder at what he called a “public flogging” of the Times by the WHO.

Full press release after the jump. Money quote: “The story in question, “Sharp drop in deaths from measles reported,” appeared on the New York Times website after the reporter participated in an embargoed telebriefing.”


EMBARGO BREACH SANCTIONS

Please note that the New York Times has been suspended from the World Health Organization media distribution list for a period of two weeks, effective immediately, after breaking the embargo yesterday on a story from WHO and other partners.

The story in question, “Sharp drop in deaths from measles reported,” appeared on the New York Times website after the reporter participated in an embargoed telebriefing.

After speaking to the reporter and assessing the circumstances surrounding the breach, WHO has decided that a two-week exclusion from our email list is a proportionate sanction. WHO communications staff have been asked not to brief any New York Times reporters during this period on any stories that are scheduled to be released through the WHO email distribution list.

WHO takes embargoes very seriously. Breaches are a violation of this code of honour among journalists and between reporters and their sources. The Organization will determine appropriate sanctions on a case-by-case basis.

For further information, please contact:

Christine McNab, Director of Communications, WHO, Geneva, Tel.: +41 XX XXX XXXX; Mobile +41 XX XXX XXXX; E-mail: xxx@who.int

Emma Ross, News Team Leader, WHO, Geneva, Tel.: +41 XX XXX XXXX; Mobile: +41 XX XXX XXXX; E-mail: xxx@who.int.

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