IFJ Condemns United Nations Censorship That Denies Journalists Access to Global Health Debate

The International Federation of Journalists today accused the United Nations of censorship and “political insanity” over the barring of Taiwanese from a crucial world health summit meeting in Geneva.

The World Health Assembly which is being held this week brings together a global community of experts and states to deal with critical health questions, but a group of journalists from Taiwan have been banned for the second year running based on a “perverse interpretation” of a 34-year old UN resolution.

Last week IFJ President Christopher Warren appealed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lift the ban on the journalists, but by yesterday, the opening day of the Assembly, they were still refused entry to the Assembly at the UN in Switzerland.

“It is political insanity for the United Nations to ban a group of journalists trying to cover a debate about global health policy,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The clear impression is of the UN structure being bullied by Taiwan’s opponents, even though these journalists are independent, professional and not engaged in any political activity.”

The IFJ says that this censorship by the UN has only been applied in the past two years. Previously Taiwanese journalists were able to report freely the activities of the World Health Assembly which is the annual meeting of the World Health Organisation.

In his letter to Kofi Annan, IFJ President Warren said that the UN as a global defender of human rights should not be seen to systematically undermine the basic rights of journalists to report on major news events. All of the journalists affected by the ban are members of the IFJ’s affiliate in Taiwan, the Association of Taiwan Journalists, and all work for recognized media outlets such as the China Times, the Taipei Times, Chinese Satellite TV and the Central News Agency of Taiwan.

“It is not too late, even now, for the UN to give our colleagues free access to the World Health Assembly,” said White. “They should do so and remove immediately the shocking image of the UN engaged in the dirty business of political intimidation and discrimination against professional journalists.”

The IFJ says that the UN policy of banning passport holders from Taiwan to attend UN events is untenable and has no basis in law, given that the UN General Assembly resolution expelling Taiwan from membership in October 1971 only dealt with expulsion of representatives of the Taiwanese state. “This is a perverse interpretation that serves only the political interests of China and is an insult to press freedom,” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries