How (free) India treats Foreign Correspondents

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Indian politicians and patriots have long held the belief that the “western” media only relays bad news from Bharat.

That, despite all the towering progress made by the emerging superpower, foreign correspondents based out of India only tell their news consumers about death, disease, despair and disillusionment in our glorious land.

If not snakes, sadhus and superstition.

As if to underline the point, the Indian government has reportedly refused to extend the visa of Japanese television journalist, Shogo Takahashi of NHK television, allegedly because his reports focused extensively on poverty and the caste system.

In other words, “consistently negative reporting” about India, that is “not convenient for the interest of India“.

The Times of India reports that Takahashi, 46, first earned the displeasure of Indian officials because his despatches for the TV show Indo no Shogeki (The impact of India) dwelt overtly on the caste system in the Indian electoral system during the 2009 general elections.

Word has also now been conveniently leaked by anonymous officials that Takahashi often filmed his documentaries without taking permission or misused permissions to shoot something other than what permission had been taken for, and also shot “high-security” defence installations.

The word “bias” has also been mentioned.

NHK has expressed surprise at the Indian government’s abrupt decision and has sought an appointment with Indian embassay officials in Tokyo. There is talk that the channel may approach the Japanese foreign ministry to take up the matter with New Delhi.

However, the timing of the decision—shortly after a journalist of the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun complained at prime minister’s Manmohan Singh‘s national press conference about the difficulties in obtaining a press information bureau (PIB) accreditation—and the ostensible reasons are revealing.

On the one hand, for several months now, all the attention has been at estimating the number of poor in India (now conveniently fixed at 37% of the population). Is it so wrong if a foreign correspondent points it out? And since when did “consistently positive reporting” become a condition for visa renewal?

Does India even half-a-case to protest against anybody, Indian or foreign, dwelling on the menace of caste?

But it is the brazen manner in which a journalist has been sent out by a supposedly “liberalised” country for reporting what is not kosher that takes the breath away. That, and the silence of the Indian media lambs—the press council, the editors’ guilds, etc—at the treatment meted out to one of their own.

If Shago Takahashi had failed to convey something vital about freedom of expression in India, the faceless officials of the home and external ministries have done his job.


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