Outcry over foreign reporter's treatment

Mungo Soggot

THE Taiwanese journalist barred by the United Nations from covering a conference in Midrand said this week it was the first time in his 30-year career the UN had banned him.

Taiwan is not recognised by the UN which says it does not allow journalists working for Taiwanese state-backed news companies to cover UN functions.

Chang Jer-Shong - who has been in South Africa for six years and who previously worked in Saigon, Bangkok and Paris - said he had been allowed to report at many UN functions at his previous postings.

Well-placed diplomatic sources at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) at Midrand said Chinese Trade Minister Wu Yi had indicated she would take no further part in deliberations if the Taiwanese journalist was accredited.

UN officials this week incurred the wrath of journalists’ associations, the Freedom of Expression Institute, the Conference of Editors and the Taiwanese embassy when they refused him accreditation for the deliberations, claiming that the organisation he worked for, the Central News Agency (CNA), was a Taiwanese state organ. A UN spokesman for the conference confirmed the conference had been acting under instructions from New York to bar government-supported media from Taiwan.

Jer-Shong said the CNA was an independent, private news agency.

Taiwan’s ambassador, I-Cheng Loh, who is also dean of the South African diplomatic corps, said the UN was bowing to pressure from Beijing.
For China, anyone Taiwanese is persona non grata, he said, adding that he did not blame the South African government for the decision, just the UN.

Raymond Louw, chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute, said the “disgraceful” ban contravened South Africa’s interim Constitution. He said the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to practice one’s craft, also protects foreigners working in the country.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association also condemned the move, and called on the UN to reconsider it. Bob Drogin, chairman of the association, told Sapa: “We consider it an outrage that a senior reporter from another country is denied access.”

He also scoffed at the UN’s excuse that the CNA was a state organ: “There are any number of government-supported news agencies around the world and they still have a duty to cover the news.”

A representative of the Conference of Editors said there was cause for grave concern when a journalist could be treated this way in breach of the Constitution. It was wholly inappropriate for a body like the UN to behave thus - and equally wrong for the South African government to accept it without strong protest.

The 1948 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights includes the rights to information, freedom of movement and freedom of association.

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