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RSF calls for "balance in matters of news and information" in support of Taiwanese journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is exasperated by the UN's inability to resolve the problem of Taiwanese journalists who want to cover the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. Their requests for accreditation were refused again this year on the sole grounds that they are Taiwanese.

"It is incredible that the same week that Ma Ying-Jeou was sworn in as Taiwan's new president, the United Nations has continued to hide behind a rule forbidding the accreditation of journalists from a country that is not recognised by the UN, thereby preventing Taiwanese journalists from covering the World Health Assembly," Reporters Without Borders said.

"In practice, the UN is reinforcing China's policy of using its influence as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to exclude Taiwan from international bodies to the detriment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 19 of which guarantees press freedom and the free flow of information."

Reporters Without Borders added: "World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan rightly said at the opening of the World Health Assembly on 19 May 2008 that, 'Good health is a foundation for prosperity and contributes to stability, and these are assets in every country.' Except for Taiwan, one is tempted to add. Dr Chan called for 'balance in matters of health.' We call for balance in matters of news and information."

This is the fifth year running that the UN and WHO have rejected requests from Taiwanese journalists to be accredited to cover the World Health Assembly in Geneva. The Central News Agency's local correspondent, Ying-chen Jou, and Macro TV's Brussels correspondent, Ingrid Hui-Ying Huang, submitted their requests at the end of April. Radio Taiwan International reporter Frank Kuo-Hwa Tseng decided to go to Geneva without requesting accreditation, although he knew that without it he had no chance of being allowed into the assembly.

The WHO has already said in the past that the UN's Department of Public Information is responsible for refusals to issue accreditation. This department requires that applicants submit "a valid passport from a state recognised by the UN General Assembly" and that they "work for an officially registered media in a country recognised by the General Assembly."

Since surrendering its UN seat to the People's Republic of China in 1971, Taiwan has failed to obtain readmission to the UN and the various UN agencies whether as an independent entity in its own right or just as an observer, like the Palestinian Authority. Under pressure from China, its journalists have not been allowed to cover the WHO's annual assembly since 2004.

This has had the effect of depriving the Taiwanese media of independent information about the leading public health issues being debated this week including the health consequences of climate change, the worldwide increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs and the fight against flu and other pandemics.

Condemning the refusal by the UN and WHO to grant accreditation to its members, the Association of Taiwan Journalists has appealed to the international community to supports its demand that "Taiwanese journalists be granted the same right to news as others."

The Geneva-based Association of Correspondents Accredited to the United Nations adopted a resolution in March calling on UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to reconsider the current discriminatory policy and bring it into line with "the spirit and the letter" of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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