UNITED NATIONS — When world leaders descend on the United Nations for their yearly meeting, U.N. headquarters in New York City transforms into a hectic, vibrant place.
Reporters and TV crews start lining up to enter the building very early in the morning. More than 1,000 members of the media converge on New York from all over the world to cover the global gabfest and hundreds of side events.
Media work areas are expanded but still cramped because there are so many writers, photojournalists and video journalists. Lounges and conference rooms buzz with diplomats and ministers attending events or meeting one-on-one.
Not this year.
The 75th anniversary of the United Nations, which was supposed to be a huge celebration, fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic. And much of the experience of the 2020 U.N. General Assembly’s high-level “general debate” is measured not in what is happening, but in what is not.
Instead of coming in person, presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers delivered prerecorded addresses via video. They were shown on giant screens inside the vast General Assembly Hall, where only one diplomat from each of the 193 U.N. member nations — sitting socially distanced — was allowed to be present to introduce the video of their country’s leader.
Members of the media were barred from the hall. The conference rooms, lounges, and hallways, usually filled with leaders and their entourages, were empty. The only media members allowed in are a core group of resident correspondents, and even their movements are restricted.
The result: a 75th General Assembly session in an almost empty, eerily quiet building, making this milestone event anything but a celebration — but, at the same time, a memorable historic moment.
Mary Altaffer is a New York City-based photojournalist for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/maltaffer