Reporters Removed, Restrained At World Health Organization Meeting On Global Tobacco Tax

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

Reporters were forcibly removed and restrained Tuesday at the World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on tobacco control in Moscow.

Washington Times editorial writer Drew Johnson told The Daily Caller that he was physically escorted out of the meeting’s convention hall by a guard while another reporter was physically restrained from entering the room, even though WHO never formally voted to restrict the media from the event.

WHO, which is the public health arm of the United Nations, planned to discuss the proposed global tobacco tax requirement in committee Tuesday. The tax requirement would slap a mandatory 70 percent excise tax on tobacco products in countries that ratified the United Nations anti-tobacco agreement (the United States did not sign the agreement, but most other Western nations did). (RELATED: SMOKED OUT: UN Tobacco Summit Kicks Out Public Spectators)

Johnson explained his ordeal, which occurred just before 10 a.m. Tuesday in Russia (approximately 2 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast) in an email to TheDC.

“There was supposed to be a press briefing at 9:30 AM,” Johnson said. “At about 9:50, the convention’s press contact came in the room and told me and a few other reporters that there would be no press briefing and that the press wasn’t allowed to attend any parts of the convention at all — plenary sessions, lunches, committee meetings, nothing. The press had been banned.”

WHO formally voted to ban the public from the convention on Monday, fearing tobacco company infiltration, but never formally voted to ban the media, as WHO did at its 2012 convention in Seoul, South Korea. So Johnson decided to make his way to the convention hall.

“I sat in the same seat I was in yesterday,” Johnson said. “I was a few minutes early and no one was in the area that had previously been reserved for the press. But I did notice that a ‘press’ placard that reserved the area for the media had been taken down. A woman came in and asked me to leave. I told her to please send someone in who could answer a few questions for me. A guy representing the WHO — he wouldn’t give his name — told me that ‘there was a vote yesterday and no press allowed.'”

Johnson replied that no formal vote had yet banned the media, so he intended to stay in the convention hall. But that reply did not sit well with WHO security.

“He told me that he was going to get the police and have me ‘carried out’ and arrested for not leaving,” Johnson said. “He left and a couple minutes later he returned and told me I could stay through the first plenary session, but had to leave the area when the committees began meeting about an hour later.”

“About a minute after that a big, burly guard who said he represented the secretariat of the convention (he also refused to give his name — I asked twice) told me that I was no longer welcome to sit through the plenary session and I had to leave immediately,” Johnson said. “He admitted that there was no vote and that the media and the press are not the same. But it didn’t matter, the secretariat and the delegates decided press was banned.”

“When he I asked if he knew what he was doing was bullshit, he replied ‘I’m not saying it’s not bullshit.’ I stood up and he and another person led me out the door. In the doorway, a German reporter asking to be let in was being physically restrained from entering the room.”

Follow Patrick on Twitter