World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland on May 21, 2023. On May 22, UN officials pulled reporters Judy Tseng and Tien Hsi-ju aside as they tried to claim their credentials and were told they could not cover the assembly because they have Taiwan passports.(Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

World Health Organization denies entry to 2 Taiwanese journalists

Taipei, May 23, 2023—The World Health Organization should ensure that all journalists can freely cover the organization’s annual gathering and should not allow the press accreditation process to be used as a political tool, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Monday, May 22, United Nations officials pulled reporters Judy Tseng and Tien Hsi-ju aside as they tried to claim their credentials to cover the World Health Assembly in Geneva. They were told they could not cover the event because they have Taiwan passports, according to a report by their outlet, the official Taiwan state news outlet Central News Agency, and a statement by the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

Tseng and Tien had previously been accredited to cover the event and were told that the decision was based on a demand by Chinese authorities. 

“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, CPJ’s China representative. “Prohibiting Taiwanese reporters’ coverage of important health-related news under China’s pressure goes against the WHO’s mission to promote global health.”

The assembly brings together member states’ public health and medical experts from May 21 to May 30 in Geneva. The WHO Assembly this year again decided to exclude Taiwan from attending the Geneva event as an observer, following opposition from China. 

“Central News Agency reporters and their colleagues in Taiwan demand that the United Nations respect the right of journalists to do their job irrespective of their nationalities,” CNA managing editor Chris Wang told CPJ by email. “The World Health Organization should mend its way by opening the proceedings of the current World Health Assembly to reporters from Taiwan.” 

In previous years, Taiwanese media outlets were blocked from covering the assembly, and their press accreditation was denied.

WHO’s communications officer Amna Smailbegovic told CPJ in an email that the UN Geneva Information Service handles accreditations for the assembly. Rolando Gómez, UN Geneva Information Service’s press and external relations section chief, told CPJ in an email that UN premises are only open to those who hold identification from a UN Member State.

“This is the rule not only for journalists, but for any participant in a UN event,” said Gómez. “The request for accreditation of these two journalists was not approved but put on hold, waiting for the submission of required documentation.”