Monday, April 21, 2008

PRC's Iron Media Curtain Extends beyond China's Borders

In one month the WHO World Health Assembly will convene in Geneva, Switzerland. The assembly convenes every year to vote on matters of business, appoint new officers and to consider applications for membership. Taiwan has applied annually since 1997 for representation in the WHO of one form or another. Each time Taiwan's application has been declined at the behest of China. As Taiwan possesses a major world economy and a world-class health care system that encompasses the care of its 23 million citizens, leaving Taiwan out of the WHO represents a major gap in the global health and disease prevention network.

As if this weren't bad enough, Taiwanese reporters are banned from even covering the World Health Assembly and many other WHO-related events. This is a clear violation of international media freedoms and the collective right of the people of Taiwan to know the proceedings of the assembled World Health Organization -- in particular, how and why they continue to be left out of it.

International journalists are in many ways a tight-knit professional community and several organizations are none to happy with what they see as China's behind-the-scenes manipulation of WHO media rights policy in order to further isolate Taiwan. Both the International Press Institute (IPI) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) released statements on April 11 this year to voice their unhappiness with China's antics and the WHO ban on Taiwan journalists.

From IPI:

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, expresses concern regarding the refusal by the United Nations (UN) to grant press passes to journalists carrying Taiwanese passports or working for Taiwanese media outlets.

According to information before IPI, for the past four years, Taiwanese journalists have been barred from covering the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). The refusal to accredit Taiwanese journalists has been based on the fact that Taiwan is not a member of the UN.

IPI regards this decision as a serious violation of press freedom and the principle of universality of human rights. Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants everyone the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." In addition, Article 2 of the Declaration provides that all rights set forth therein apply to everyone, and that "no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty." Accordingly, it remains difficult to understand the justification for the UN’s discrimination against certain journalists based on the political status of the country to which they belong.

And from IFJ:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today issued a new call on the United Nations to lift its four-year ban on Taiwanese journalists from reporting from the World Health Assembly next month accusing the UN of undermining the role of journalism in global campaigns for public health.

“The United Nations is allowing itself to be bullied by China and in the process is chipping away at the values it was created to protect,” said Paco Audije, IFJ Deputy General Secretary.

The IFJ says Taiwanese journalists should be given accreditation like hundreds of other media people who will be covering the World Health Organisation (WHO) annual assembly, which will open in Geneva on May 19th to discuss “A safer future: Global Public Health Security in the 21st Century”.

But since 2004, the United Nations (UN) Department of Public Information has refused credentials to Taiwan journalists. The IFJ is supporting its affiliate the Association of Taiwan Journalists which is demanding that the ban is lifted.

“These journalists want to inform their public about a crucial debate taking place within the international community,” said Audije. “It is incomprehensible that bureaucratic obstacles should be used to deny journalists from Taiwan access to the forum that will consider the universal need for protection against risks of spreading disease.”

So there you have it: yet another rights violation sponsored by the officials in Beijing for four years running. This is the kind of media veil that is bad enough inside of China -- where liberal and heavy-handed journalistic restrictions make it nearly impossible for anyone outside to know exactly what is going on in places like Tibet or to know the full extent of human rights violations in China. When international organizations bow submissively to the same treatment however, the absurdity that follows is almost humorous. Almost.

Its time for the officers of the UN and WHO to wake up and appreciate the higher values that they are bound by the UN Charter to protect. Unless all international journalists are all equally permitted to cover UN and WHO proceedings, the promise these organizations were conceived to fulfill rings hollow.