Monday, November 24, 2008

Journalists denied visas for India after critical reporting

European journalists in Sweden are complaining that Indian diplomats are refusing visas for visits to India to a “blacklist” of journalists who have been identified as writing negative stories about the country. Freelance journalist Ulrika Nandra and a foreign correspondent of the daily newspaper Goteborgs- Posten, Marina Malmgren, are two of the Swedish journalists whose visa applications have been rejected. After journalists were denied visas in the wake of writing critical reports about the country, Reporters Without Borders (reporters sans frontieres - RSF) condemned actions of the Indian embassy in Sweden.

Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders said, “in both cases, the rejections appear to be linked to articles they wrote about social problems in India, according to Swedish radio programme, The Media. Journalists are blacklisted if their reports about India are seen as too negative, according to sources quoted by the programme. This has happened to several other Swedish journalists.

This points to a lack of understanding of the basis of press freedom which is deeply worrying. If there is also a blacklist of inconvenient journalists, it is in fact outrageous. It means India has a lot of work to do on respecting press freedom.” Bengtsson told New Europe over the phone, “There was no response to our request to the Indian embassy in Stockholm to clarify the subject but the Swedish foreign ministry has confirmed that they had discussion with (the Indian) embassy in Stockholm,” adding, “still there is no public response (from the Indian embassy).”

Other Indian embassies around the world have also rejected visa applications from journalists, said Vincent Brossel, head of the Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders’ head office in Paris. He confirmed that foreign journalists have also had difficulty returning to India, usually after reporting on sensitive social issues. Reporters Without Borders cited Nandra as saying “I am sincerely shocked that a democracy should tell journalists what to write.”

According to information provided by RSF, Nandra’s problems began in autumn 2007 when she was about to make a second visit to India as a freelance journalist. She submitted a visa application in September but more than one year later had still received no response. Representatives of the media for which Nandra worked, state-run Sveriges Television and daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, held a meeting with the Indian embassy in February 2008 at which the embassy said they were displeased with her reports, including one about the sex trafficking in Bombay and a series of articles about changing gender roles in India, carried by Svenska Dagbladet in the summer of 2007.

“India is going through a sensitive phase at the moment and I think they are nervous that negative reports will frighten potential investors. Also, writing about sexuality is very much a taboo in India. Moreover, there may be expectations of me because I am half-Indian that I should be more loyal to India than other journalists,” Nandra said. Reliable sources had told Nandra that it is uncertain that she will ever be able to return to the country, even on a tourist visa. Apart from working in India as a journalist, Nandra also has relatives there, making the visa rejection a strong personal blow as well.

The SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association, posted the item on its website adding that the SAJA would also like to hear from the Indian embassy in Stockholm about this issue but there was no response to the SAJA or to an email request from Tejinder Singh (a member of SAJA) till going to press. Moreover, as the public service Swedish radio is preparing an investigation about denial of journalist visas by Indian embassies and the undersigned is also interested to investigate further, please do not hesitate to contact the following if you are interested to tell publicly or anonymously your story.