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76TH WHA/Media groups support Taiwanese reporters' rights to cover U.N. events

05/24/2023 06:26 PM
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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (center left) and Taiwan
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (center left) and Taiwan's representative to Switzerland David Huang (center right) are pictured together during a "Walk the Talk: Health for All Challenge" in Geneva on May 21. Several Taiwanese groups joined the walk to call for Taiwan's inclusion in the global organization. CNA photo May 21, 2023

Taipei, May 24 (CNA) International media organizations are continuing to urge the United Nations to grant all journalists access to its events, after two Taiwanese reporters were turned away from this week's World Health Assembly (WHA).

The two Central News Agency (CNA) reporters, Judy Tseng (曾婷瑄) and Tien Hsi-ju (田習如), were turned away on Monday when trying to claim their media credentials for the WHA meeting, which is being held May 21-30 in Geneva.

The denial of media accreditation to the two journalists because of "pressure from China," as the two reporters were told by a U.N. staff member, has led to concerns over restrictions on media freedom, and prompted several high-profile media organizations to speak out.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global federation of journalists' trade unions, called on Wednesday for the U.N. 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 decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, "poses a distinct threat to press freedom," the IFJ and its affiliate, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), said via a statement.

"It is imperative for the U.N. and its affiliated organizations to uphold the value of press freedom they endorse," the ATJ added.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia Bureau Director Cédric Alviani said in a statement Tuesday 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 (CPJ) also urged the WHO to ensure all journalists were able to 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 representative of the New York-based organization.

In previous years, Taiwanese media outlets have been blocked from covering the assembly, after their press accreditation was denied, CPJ noted.

CPJ sought a response from the U.N. Geneva Information Service which handles accreditation for the WHA assembly, and was informed that U.N. premises are only open to those who hold identification from a U.N. member state.

"This is the rule not only for journalists, but for any participant in a UN event," said Rolando Gómez, chief of the U.N. Geneva Information Service's press and public relations section. "The request for accreditation of these two journalists was not approved but put on hold."

However, according to the two CNA reporters, their requests for media accreditation to cover the WHA were approved by the U.N. last week.

The two reporters both hold Republic of China (ROC, the official name of Taiwan) passports. They submitted documents for media accreditation on the U.N. system several weeks before the WHA convened its 76th annual event.

Since there is no option for "Taiwan" or "The Republic of China" in the dropdown list of countries, 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.

Despite their requests being approved, upon arriving to claim their credentials on Monday, Tseng and Tien were told by a U.N. staff member that they would not be allowed to cover the event because of "pressure from China."

The U.N. staff member informed them that as ROC passport holders, they would need a China-issued Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents to enter the event.

Tseng and Tien explained that although they did not have the permit the U.N. worker had requested, as they were not part of any official delegation from Taiwan, but were instead journalists, they should be allowed inside to cover the event. The request was denied.

Emails received by the two CNA reporters last week informing them that their media accreditation for the WHA had been approved are seen in these captured images. CNA photo May 22, 2023
Emails received by the two CNA reporters last week informing them that their media accreditation for the WHA had been approved are seen in these captured images. CNA photo May 22, 2023

Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents' Club (TFCC), which is made up of around 100 foreign journalists based in Taiwan, also voiced support for the two CNA 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 U.N. or its associated organizations," the TFCC said. "Press freedom is essential to holding powerful institutions accountable."

The ROC was expelled from the WHO in 1972, after losing its U.N. seat to the People's Republic of China (PRC) the previous year.

Since then, Taiwan has mainly been unable been to participate in the WHA. However, in 2009-2016 it attended as an observer following an invitation from the WHO amid warmer cross-Taiwan Strait relations under the then Kuomintang government.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Shih Hsiu-chuan)


CNA reporter Judy Tseng explains what happened when she went to claim her press pass in Geneva, Switzerland to cover the World Health Assembly on Monday. (In Chinese)
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