Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged the United Nations (UN) to defy Chinese pressure and let Taiwanese journalists cover events. The appeal comes as the 73rd annual UN General Assembly opened in New York on Tuesday.

“Accrediting Taiwanese journalists is not a political move, and it avoids unacceptable discrimination that contradicts all’s fundamental right to free information stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said RSF Secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Deloire urged the UN “to accredit all journalists of good faith, regardless of their nationality or the place of origin of their media.”

United Nations General Assembly Hall in the UN Headquarters, New York, NY. Photo: Wikicommons.

Taiwan was a member of the UN until 1971, after the General Assembly voted to recognise Beijing as China’s ruling government. Its request for admission was denied in 2007. However, a coalition led by the United States subsequently forced the global body and its secretary-general to stop using the phrase “Taiwan is a part of China.”

Two Taiwanese government officials travelled to New York this week to promote the island’s achievement of the UN’s sustainable development goals.

‘Not an agent of the state’

Cédric Alviani, director of RSF’s East Asia office, told HKFP that denying accreditation to journalists prevents them from doing their job: “A journalist is not an agent of the state which delivered him [or her] a passport; it is a professional whose work is to collect and transmit information in virtue of a fundamental right listed in Article 19.”

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen. Photo: Taiwan Presidential Office.

Alviani added: “Allowing the media to cover the UN and WHO [World Health Organisation] without distinction of nationality is particularly important because global issues of security or health know no borders.”

RSF said that in recent years, the UN has faced pressure from China to deny requests for press accreditation for Taiwanese nationals on the grounds that their passports are not recognised.

Taiwanese journalists were not permitted to cover the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May for the fourth consecutive year. They were also denied access to the 2016 triannual Assembly hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency.

Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945, when Japan ceded control over the territory. Beijing considers the island to be a breakaway province and refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with countries that recognise it.

The island ranks the highest out of all Asian countries for press freedom in the 2018 RSF World Press Freedom Index, coming in 42nd out of 180 countries. China ranks 176th on the index.

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.