For Taiwanese Journalists, Freedom Stops at the UN's Door
THE United Nations celebrated World Press Freedom Day on May 3. I am a journalist from Taiwan who has been forbidden by the UN - the same organization that is promoting freedom of the press - from covering its activities solely because of my professional affiliation.
I am the New York bureau chief of Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA) and have been based in New York for five years. Last September, I and several colleagues from television networks in Taiwan were accredited to cover UN activities. Two weeks later, however, I was summoned to the UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit of the Department of Public Information and told that, because CNA is government-owned and Taiwan is not a member of the UN, I was not even allowed on UN premises. In fact, the head of the unit removed my press pass and had me ``escorted'' from the building. I was treated as though I were engaged in a criminal activity instead of an honorable profession. This was not too different from how repressive regimes deal with journalists investigating abuses: by ``removal.''
I do not deny that some of the major media on Taiwan are partially or wholly owned by the ruling Nationalist Party. But employees of these organizations are not representatives of the government. The UN based its decision in part on a report by Columbia University's Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, which indicated that some of the media in Taiwan are government-owned. However, Dr. Everette Dennis, director of the Freedom Forum, has called the UN's reading of its report a misinterpretation.
Taiwan today is very different from the Taiwan of 1971, when the Nationalist government lost its UN membership and permanent seat on the Security Council. It is a flourishing democracy with 76 potential parties, in which the roles of the government and the parties are separate and well defined. Press censorship is prohibited and news editors can work unhindered. In fact, the February 1994 issue of ``Freedom Review,'' published by Freedom House, listed Taiwan as one of 68 nations (out of 185) with a free press.
Our cause has also been taken up by the UN Correspondents Association. UNCA, recognizing the importance of universal and unrestricted media access, has written a letter to the assistant secretary-general for the UN Department of Public Information, asking him to reconsider this case. There has been no reply to date.
TAIWAN can make a real contribution to the UN. It has the world's 14th-largest economy and a per capita income of over $10,000. Its 273 newspapers and four main television stations serve a literate population of 21 million.
The people of Taiwan deserve the right to know what is going on in the UN, a major actor on the world stage. The City of New York, by accrediting me, has recognized this, as has Rome, where I was stationed previously. Absence of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and either the US or Italy did not obstruct journalistic access.
The UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges the importance of access to information. Article 19 states: ``Everyone has the right ... to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through the media and regardless of frontiers.'' In denying this right to journalists from a democratic society, the UN is violating its own character, stifling the ideal it allegedly seeks to promote. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.