Taiwan: Journalists blocked from covering World Health forum

Two accredited journalists from Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) were denied entry to the ongoing World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva on May 22, with World Health Organisation (WHO) event staff allegedly claiming ‘pressure from China’ as the reason behind the refusal. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), call on the United Nations and its affiliate organisations to respect press freedom and allow unrestricted access to all journalists regardless of nationality.

Attendees and delegate watch former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speak at the 76th annual World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 22. Credit: Twitter

CNA reporters and Republic of China (Taiwan) passport holders Judy Tseng and Tien Hsi-ju had been approved for accreditation to cover the WHA, attended by public health and medical experts from UN member states from May 21 to May 30, with the pair submitting all necessary documents weeks ahead of the meeting.

According to a first-hand account published by CNA, when Tseng and Hsi-ju proceeded to collect their accreditation, a UN staff member informed the pair that the WHO, as an agency of the UN, could not recognise Taiwanese passports as a valid form of identification. The staff added that despite the approved press accreditation application listing the pair’s Taiwanese passport status, a ‘little pressure’ from Chinese diplomats had resulted in their barring without a People’s Republic of China (PRC)-issued Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents.

When asked how any representatives from the PRC knew of the application, the UN staff member said, “they know everything”, before apologising. The employee ultimately denied the pair entrance, claiming he would lose his job and suggesting that the pair appeal to the WHO.

The incident has been condemned by journalists' organisations and media freedom groups, with the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club raising concerns at the denial of coverage on the grounds of nationality.

Since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, China has effectively barred Taiwanese representatives from attending WHA meetings, with journalists often unable to gain entry to events. In May 2022, the ATJ spoke out against the denial of entry of representatives from the CNA and other outlets to last year’s assembly.

 The ATJ said: “The ATJ asserts that it is imperative for the United Nations and its affiliated organizations to uphold the value of press freedom they endorse while urging the WHA to abstain from restricting journalists' interviewing rights based on their nationality.”

The IFJ said: “The denial of press accreditation to verified journalists, particularly at events with global importance such as the World Health Assembly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, poses a distinct threat to press freedom. The IFJ urges the United Nations and its associated agencies, as per its charter, to allow all journalists to report freely regardless of nationality.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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