International media organizations urged the UN to grant all journalists access to its events, after two Taiwanese reporters were turned away from the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Central News Agency reporters Judy Tseng (曾婷瑄) and Tien Hsi-ju (田習如) were on Monday turned away from the UN headquarters in Geneva after they sought to claim their media credentials to cover the WHA meeting running from Sunday to Tuesday next week.
A UN staff member told the reporters that they were denied accreditation due to “pressure from China,” raising concerns over press freedom.
The International Federation of Journalists on Wednesday called on the UN and its affiliate organizations to respect press freedom and allow unrestricted access to all journalists regardless of nationality.
Denying press accreditation to verified journalists, particularly at events of global importance like the WHA, the decisionmaking body of the WHO, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “poses a distinct threat to press freedom,” the federation and the affiliated Association of Taiwan Journalists said in a statement.
“It is imperative for the UN and its affiliated organizations to uphold the value of press freedom they endorse,” the association said.
Reporters Without Borders East Asia Bureau director Cedric Alviani on Tuesday said that “refusing accreditation based on a journalist’s nationality or the geographical location of their media registration is clearly discriminatory and against the public’s right to information.”
“We call on the United Nations to open its events to all journalists and media, regardless of their geographic origin,” he added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the WHO to ensure all journalists can cover the organization’s annual gathering, saying in a statement that the WHO “should not allow the press accreditation process to be used as a political tool.”
“The World Health Organization’s decision to block two Taiwanese journalists from covering the most important gathering for global health is deeply troubling, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic proved that the sharing of accurate information about such issues is crucial,” said Iris Hsu, the China correspondent of the New York-based organization.
Taiwanese media outlets have been blocked from covering the assembly over the past few years, after their press accreditation was denied, the committee said.
It sought a response from the UN Geneva Information Service, which handles accreditation for the WHA, and was informed that UN premises are only open to those who hold identification from a UN member state.
“This is the rule not only for journalists, but for any participant in a UN event,” said Rolando Gomez, chief of the UN Geneva Information Service’s press and public relations section.
“The request for accreditation of these two journalists was not approved, but put on hold,” Gomez said.
However, the Taiwanese reporters said their requests for media accreditation to cover the WHA were approved by the UN the previous week.
The reporters hold Taiwanese passports. They submitted documents for media accreditation through the UN system several weeks before the WHA convened.
Since there is no option for “Taiwan” or “The Republic of China” in the list of countries on the UN system, the reporters say they selected “Thailand” when applying, but specified in the notes section that they were journalists from “Taiwan (Republic of China)” and provided copies of their passports.
However, staff at the UN headquarters said that as Taiwanese passport holders, they needed a China-issued Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents to enter the event.
Tseng and Tien said they did not have such a permit, as they were not part of an official delegation from Taiwan, but as journalists, they should be allowed to cover the event.
However, their request was denied.
The Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which comprises about 100 foreign journalists based in Taiwan, on Tuesday voiced support for the Taiwanese reporters.
“The right of journalists to access information and events should not be determined by their nationality, especially at a global body such as the UN or its associated organizations,” the club said. “Press freedom is essential to holding powerful institutions accountable.”
Taiwan was expelled from the WHO in 1972, after losing its UN seat to the People’s Republic of China the previous year.
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