Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 3 News List

ATJ continues the fight for reporters’ rights in Geneva

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Fighting for press credentials for Taiwanese reporters at the World Health Assembly (WHA) is a difficult but necessary task, the Association of Journalists in Taiwan (ATJ) and the Government Information Office (GIO) said yesterday, despite the apparent warming relations between Taipei and Beijing.

Expectations are high that Beijing will reciprocate to the “diplomatic truce” initiated by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) by allowing Taiwan to become a WHA observer at the annual assembly in May.

“However, even if Taiwan received observer status, it does not mean Taiwanese reporters would automatically be granted the right to cover the event,” said Manfred Peng (彭滂沱), director of GIO’s International Information Office, adding that the matter would have to be taken up with the UN.

Reporters with Taiwanese passports have been barred from covering the annual health event from designated press area since 2004.

All Taiwanese reporters, regardless of the agency they work for, have had to stand in line early in the morning to obtain a “member of the public” pass to enter the UN building in Geneva.

WHO officials in the past have said the health body itself welcomes reporters from Taiwan, but since the assembly is held at a UN building, it must abide by UN rule which stipulates that any reporter holding a non-UN recognized passport is barred from entering an UN building.

“We will continue to fight for the rights our reporters [to cover the WHA meeting] by seeking the support of various international organizations to lobby the UN to lift this unfair regulation,” ATJ secretary-general Liu Chia-yun (劉嘉韻) said.

Last year, more than 40 organizations — including International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Border, the Association of Correspondents Accredited to the United Nations and Human Rights Without Frontiers International — openly protested and urged the UN to abolish the discriminatory practice.

The UN secretary-general’s office has yet to respond to their pleas, she said.

Liu said that barring Taiwanese journalists from covering an international event was a direct violation of press freedoms and contravened the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Peng said his office was aware of the matter and would discuss it with government agencies, including the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — or “higher ups” in the government.

A more definite strategy is expected to be announced in April, shortly before the assembly, he said.

Paul Chang (張文樑), head of the ministry’s Department of International Organizations, said the ministry was closely monitoring the situation.

MAC Deputy Chairman Chao Chien-min (趙建民) said he could not confirm whether the matter would be part of future cross-strait negotiations as formal talks on Taiwan’s international space, such WHA observer status, had yet to be officially launched.

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