A full page Ad in US media, covering Modi’s current visit to USA, urged India: “ free the press.” It features photos of some Indian journalists-writers harassed and imprisoned, and denied bail for years. Obviously not all agree with false claims of democracy.
The ‘free press’ for India means relying on Anglo-Saxon media regarding China. That’s what the USA desires.
Only a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that China and India have effectively kicked out a large number of each other’s journalists by refusing to renew their visas. The Indian media initially cited that report. There was no independent Indian media coverage. This report reviews the development that is detrimental to peace and to Indian people’s interests.
Indian journalists were present in Beijing even during the 1962 war, it is recalled.
But this development shows the media relations are worse today, and that at a time Indian Business has a very high, an unprecedented level of, bilateral trade with China, at $ 135 billion in 2022, up 8 percent from $ 125 billion in 2021.
Trade with China has a very high import content, despite Modi-led BJP’s call Boycott Chinese goods, meant for public consumption: India’s trade deficit is now around $ 100 billion. Indian Businesses want to import cheaper components and other inputs from China that go into their products, meant also to be exported. They want people to boycott, thus forego, Chinese goods available at economic rates, so that they and MNCs grab Indian market and make enormous profits. That is ‘Swadeshi’ meant to cater to their market interests.
Yes to business, No to exchange of news, with China?
Is this the purpose of democracy, in the eyes of ‘democratic allies’ USA and India? Is this multi-polarity India claims?
Answering a question by a journalist of US newspaper Wall Street Journal, Prime Minister Modi, now in USA said:
“ Indeed, India is a democracy and as President Biden also mentioned, India and America, (for) both countries, democracy is in our DNA. Democracy is our spirit. Democracy runs in our veins. We live democracy.”
“ In the evolution of the democratic spirit, India is the Mother of Democracy,” he claimed while addressing the US Congress.
President Biden agreed: ..” it is in America’s DNA and I believe in India’s DNA. And the whole world has a stake in our success, both of us in maintaining our democracies … makes us affiliate partners and enables us to expand democratic institutions across … the world. And I believe this and I still believe this.”
If that were so, why this blockade of media?
“ China evicting last Indian journalist a new low in ties. A bridge has been burnt for now”
Theprint.in 14 June, 2023 published a report with the above caption. The author, Aadil Brar, a columnist and a freelance journalist, was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service.
“ The diplomatic relations between India and China have been further downgraded with the expulsion of the last remaining Indian journalist reporting from Beijing. According to a report in Bloomberg, KJM Varma, a reporter with the Press Trust of India, has been asked to leave the mainland by the end of the month (June).
“With this, China will not have a single Indian journalist reporting from the country, down from four. The other three journalists — from Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and Prasar Bharati — were either asked to leave the country or their visa renewal applications were denied.”
“ The expulsion of Indian journalists from Beijing has left Indian media organisations in a blind state. With the latest spat, the rift between India and China is as wide now as the vast expanse of the Himalayas. A bridge, for now, has been burnt.”
The report recalled that Indian journalists were present in Beijing even during the 1962 war.
In fact, the development is not really new.
It has been in the making for years:
“The Indian government’s brutal treatment has put enormous psychological pressure on Chinese journalists in India,” Hu Xiaoming wrote, saying visa applications from Chinese journalists have not been approved since 2020.
Hu is a former bureau chief of Xinhua News Agency based in New Delhi, and wrote an article discussing “persistent visa hassle” that he and his colleagues faced in India, which was published in China Daily and cited by Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, during a press conference on 12 June.
Hu’s op-ed also outlines the ‘problems’ of short-term visas issued to Chinese journalists and the difficulties of obtaining a local bank account despite staying in the country for the long term. The allegations aired in Hu’s op-ed are a significant development as Chinese state media rarely publishes such pointed criticism targeting India – especially about the visa policy for journalists.
Former ambassador to China and former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao raised the alarm about the severity of the visa row. “This is the worst time I’ve seen in my living memory in India-China relations. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s serious,” she said in a tweet.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has spoken about it in an official statement. “Chinese journalists in India have no difficulties in reporting. However, Indian journalists in China have been operating with difficulties – such as not being permitted to hire locals as correspondents or journalists,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
“ We will depend solely on Anglo-Saxon media for undersatnding our neighbour. That’s NOT good.”
With an undisguised glee, Uncle Sam is nudging India into further spats with China. Illustration: Global Times.
The above comment was by Anurag Viswanath, an indepndent Sinologist based in Singapore. She significantly captioned her OpEd article (Times of India, June 19, 2023) : “The Stories on China that India will miss. ”
Negating discrimination by China, implied by MEA, she noted : China’s “ restrictions on hiring locals appear universally applicable to all foreign organizations.” She added it is “ incumbent on Chinese State media journalists being granted visas and is linked to the overall health of bilateral relations.”
Obviously it is not discriminatory, and it is reciprocal.
She wrote: “ China has alleged unfair and discriminatory treatment of its journalists. India has not approved visas since 2020, leading to a drop from 14 journalists to one.”
There were comments linking India’s steps to China’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour, as seen ever since Galwan , but facts are otherwise.
Her comment, clarifies, rather endorses the bureau chief of Xinhua, and exposes the MEA’s claims. In fact, she added, citing Hu, “the downward spiral began in 2016, and became exacerbated in 2020.”
Indian public will miss ground realities, will depend on “Anglo-Saxon narrative,” she said, as the Indian journalists “will lack immersive experience”, and they “miss experiencing China’s legendary hospitality.” “ Indian insight will be a sore gap.”
Tiananmen Square incidents, 1989, a false claim : “brazen speculation and rumour mongering by Western media”
Tiananmen Square incidents of 1989 are a classic example wherein foreign media claimed that Chinese troops had fired into the crowds with several hundred casualties, admittedly a false claim, that was sold for decades. Vijay Gokhale, then a young diplomat serving in Beijing, and later India’s Foreign Secretary was a witness to the drama that unfolded in Tiananmen Square. He wrote 30 years later the book, Tiananmen Square: The Making of a Protest – A Diplomat Looks Back (2021 May) :
“.. my personal experience during those 50 days was that a lot of the western media fed off each other and fed off the students in the square, without actually cross-checking their information… Or that their sources were questionable. For me that was a revelation. That is why I felt I needed to bring out that the Chinese side is hiding some facts but also that the western media was giving its own slant to the whole thing.”
Gokhale provided “ a fascinating insight on the hypocrisy of the Western media as they went about indulging in brazen speculation and rumour mongering thereby making an absolute and capital mockery of journalistic ethics.”
Now distorted news by Western media about China is a daily spectacle, spreading lies and hatred, promoting war-like atmosphere, and harming peace. India will have to depend on such media.
While Indian media was not keen, until recently, to pursue the above WSJ story, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning raised the question as early as on April 6.
“In 2017, the Indian side shortened the period of validity of visas held by Chinese journalists in India to three months or even one month without any valid reason. Since 2020, the Indian side has refused to review and approve Chinese journalists’ applications for stationing in India,” she alleged.
Mao said that a journalist of the China Global Television Network stationed in India had been asked, “without any explanation”, by New Delhi in 2020 to leave the country within ten days although his visa was still valid for two more months.
“A few days ago, the Indian side asked a journalist of the Xinhua News Agency to leave the country by March 31, citing the reason that he had been in the country for six years,” she said.
New Delhi, however, dismissed the allegation and urged Beijing to continue to facilitate journalists from India so that they could continue to stay in and report from China.
scroll.in, Jun 11, 2023, reported it was indeed a case of Tit-for-tat expulsions:
“ Beijing’s revocation in recent months of the accreditations of three Indian correspondents and decision to freeze the visas of two, effectively barring them from returning to China to work, comes in retaliation to Delhi’s measures against Chinese state media journalists. China has also reportedly threatened counter-measures against the last Indian accredited reporter in Beijing if the visa of the last Chinese correspondent in India is not renewed.”
China is reportedly demanding that India must provide Chinese journalists year-long visas instead of the three-month permits they had been receiving.
What India stands to lose
Then it reported views of several others, with the caption: What India stands to lose from journalists being expelled from China.
“ As a consequence, the understanding Indians have of their enormous neighbour stands to be impaired, say Indian correspondents who have previously reported from China. The absence of Indian journalists in China will deprive Indian audiences of an Indian perspective on Beijing’s view of the simmering border conflict as well as developments in the world’s second-largest economy, they say.
“ Not having Indian reporters in China “may lead to misconceptions as we’ll be relying more on imagination”, said Atul Aneja, who reported from China for The Hindu between 2014 and 2020. “The hostility will increase if we don’t get the exact picture. It’s important to have our eyes on the ground.”
Sowmiya Ashok, a former Beijing correspondent for The Indian Express, added that “having boots on the ground…feeds into both public perception and effective diplomacy”.
This view is shared on the other side of the border too. “The presence of more journalists from China in India would help to bridge the gap between the two countries and foster a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures and perspectives,” Wang Zichen, a former reporter at China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua, told the Wall Street Journal:
“This, in turn, could lead to a reduction in hostility and a more peaceful resolution to the border dispute.”
That is exactly what USA and the west do not want. Indians should note this:
Washington also imposed restrictions on Chinese news outlets, forcing Chinese journalists out of the United States. However, unlike the situation between India and China, a large pool of American and Chinese correspondents had been allowed to stay back in Beijing and Washington.
On June 2, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi countered China’s rationale, highlighting the challenges Indian journalists are facing in China. “We would hope that Chinese authorities facilitate the continued presence of Indian journalists in working and reporting from China,” Bagchi added.
The background with relevant facts given by China is given below.
“ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular news conference in Beijing on May 31, it was New Delhi that started the trend, leaving the Chinese side with no choice but to reciprocate…“ It remains unclear how that will benefit India, and what New Delhi intends to do to end the deadlock.
“ Chinese journalists have suffered unfair and discriminatory treatment in India for a long time now.
“ In 2017, the Indian side shortened the validity of visas held by Chinese journalists in India to three months, or even one month, without giving any valid reason. Since 2020, the Indian side has refused to review and approve Chinese journalists’ applications to be stationed in India. As a result, the number of Chinese journalists stationed in India has plummeted from 14 in normal times to just one now.”
“ As of May 31, the Indian side had not renewed the visa of the last Chinese journalist in the country. The number of Chinese journalists stationed in India is therefore about to drop to zero.”
The report pointedly asked:
“Or does it (India) want the two neighbors not to have any correspondents stationed in each other’s country, leaving the job of telling Indian and Chinese stories to Western media outlets?
“There are more Indian journalists working in China than vice versa. Although Beijing is not interested in a tit-for-tat game, it has more cards than New Delhi to play in the farce that India has started.”
China stressed that “China is still willing to maintain communication with India under the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. It is to be hoped that India will reciprocate by responding to China’s legitimate concerns, and take concrete steps as soon as possible to create favorable conditions for restoring normal exchanges between the media organizations of the two countries.” ( 2023 June 2 China Daily report, cited above)
“ Amid reports that China has expelled most Indian journalists, the Indian government said it’s in touch with Beijing on the issue and expressed hope that Chinese authorities will facilitate the continued presence of Indian journalists working and reporting from China.” That was a report by Times of India, TNN / Jun 3, 2023.
Now it is three weeks since the reports appeared. Modi is busy selling Indian democracy in USA , making claims of Atmanirbhar bharat in defence too, of course subordinating India to America’s Asia-Pacific strategy.
India has not come out if it wants an independent media, particularly in relation to China. No Atmanirbhar bharat (self-reliant) media?
Reporting China is being outsourced to the biased western media, full of venom towards China. It is not in the interest of India and of peace.
(The author is an independent media observer and political analyst.)