GREATER NOIDA, India – A United Nations legislative body has voted to kick journalists out of its meeting Monday.
Delegates voted unanimously to ban journalists from the remaining sessions of the biennial legislative conference of World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Journalists called the decision “outrageous” and “shocking,” while delegates refused to address concerns about denying press freedom.
The FCTC’s legislative body, known as the COP, or Conference of the Parties, is meeting this week in a Delhi, India suburb to discuss and vote on policy proposals that impact more than 90 percent of the world’s population. Global taxpayers spend approximately $13 million a year funding the FCTC and its conference. Every major nation has signed on to the UN tobacco control treaty except the United States, Switzerland and Indonesia.
At the event, delegates representing 180 nations set international guidelines for tobacco taxes, regulations on e-cigarettes, advertising bans, graphic health warnings and other efforts to reduce tobacco consumption. The delegates are generally high-ranking public health, finance and trade officials, such as finance ministers and secretaries of health.
During the closing minutes of Monday’s opening session of the conference, a delegate from Thailand proposed banning the media and the public from the remainder of the 6-day event in order to “have discussions in private.”
The proposal passed with no objections, meaning that each of the 180 nations, unanimously agreed to bar reporters from the taxpayer-funded legislative session, leaving journalists stunned.
“I, for one, was shocked,” said Faith Goldy, a reporter for The Rebel, a Canadian political news site. “I’ve covered a lot of conventions and this was totally unprecedented for me.”
When Golby asked a Canadian delegate why they supported banning the media despite Canada’s strong tradition of freedom of the press, the delegate refused to offer a comment.
Yaël Ossowski, a columnist covering the COP for the PanAm Post called the decision “outrageous.”
“Journalists are responsible for informing the public about the decisions such large international bureaucracies make,” Ossowski said. “How can this be done if the media is kicked out the second the real issues are discussed?”
“Every citizen should be concerned about what the WHO is up to.”
Delegates from Italy, Madagascar, Mexico and the Philippines all declined to speak to reporters after they voted to ban journalists.
One delegate from Mali expressed concern after his country went along with the decision to eject the media.
“Reporters should be allowed to stay,” said the Malian delegate who preferred not to be identified. “Without the media, the public doesn’t know what has happened.”
This is not the first time the COP has come under scrutiny for restraining press freedom. During the WHO’s most recent anti-tobacco convention in Moscow, journalists were physically removed from the COP meeting hall moments before a controversial vote regarding a minimum 70 percent tax increase on the retail price of tobacco products.
Reporters covering the conference now face the task of reporting on the meeting without access to the proceedings.
“For a conference with such a sweeping impact on every global citizen, it’s frankly an outrage that journalists are not allowed to freely report and do their jobs,” said a frustrated Ossowski.