Ten members of the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) South Asia have resigned from their membership of the club in protest of the club president S Venkat Narayan’s three-day visit to Myanmar on the invitation of a newspaper supported by the military junta.
Foreign correspondents in India are a beleaguered lot. The visit of the FCC office-bearer has raised questions at a time when the FCC is already struggling to take up issues faced by its members, including issuance of visas, access and restrictions on travel within India. Periodic surveys of foreign correspondents have revealed the constraints they work under. Things have worsened after the “raid” on the BBC offices in India to investigate alleged income tax irregularities on February 14, barely three weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary “India: The Modi Question” , casting a critical eye on the failure of the then Modi government in Gujarat to deal with the violence of 2002.
Guidelines of the external affairs ministry shared with foreign correspondents, the restricted and protected places now include all eight North Eastern states, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Island, Lakshadweep, and “international border areas” in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan.
Invariably, foreign correspondents are at the mercy of the foreign policies of the countries they work in, even though they zealously guard their independence and their right to operate professionally.
At this point, India and China are on a confrontation course over visas and access to journalists, with both countries denying visas to journalists of the other country. China alleged unfair treatment of its reporters and denied visas to two of the last remaining journalists from India and said India had done likewise with two journalists from China.
In a letter (scroll below), the correspondents expressed their misgivings at the manner in which the club president “used his association with the FCC for propaganda purposes.” O his part, Narayan said he was unaware that the newspaper, ‘The Global New Light of Myanmar‘, was run by the military and said it was a private visit.
Taking to Twitter, several FCC members expressed their condemnation on no uncertain terms:
FCC letter on club President visit to Myanmar
New Delhi, 11 June 2023
To the Board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia
AB-19, Mathura Road
New Delhi 110001
As members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia (FCC), we were shocked and embarrassed to learn that the club’s President, Venkat Narayan, visited Myanmar last week, consulted for an organisation that disseminates the views of the country’s military junta, and participated in meetings with junta representatives that enabled his visit to be portrayed in a manner that brings the name of the FCC into disrepute.
Mr Narayan says he undertook the trip in a private capacity at the invitation and cost of the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper. Yet state media identified Mr Narayan by name as the representative of the club in numerous reports, and used his association with the FCC for propaganda purposes.
We deplore the notion that the president of a group that is meant to represent journalists and stand up for media freedom would consult for and accept remuneration in kind from a propaganda organ of a regime that has jailed 70 journalists and is ranked 173 out of 180 countries in the latest press-freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
This episode, which continues a pattern of activities that betrays the club’s role in protecting and facilitating independent journalism, has irrevocably destroyed our faith in the FCC as an organisation that can successfully represent our interests. We resign our membership with immediate effect.
Signed (in alphabetical order by surname):
Aletta André, Sebastien Berger, Sébastien Farcis, Sean Gleeson, Laura Höflinger, Peter Hornung, Oliver Mayer, John Reed, Lena Schipper, Gerry Shih
The following former FCC members and other international journalists in India express their support:
Alban Alvarez, Andreas Babst, Lou Del Bello, Rita Cenni, Rebecca Conway, Catherine Davison, Avani Dias, Carole Dieterich, Lisa Dupuy, Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Hannah Gardner, Glen Paul Kugelstadt, Sophie Landrin, Shan Li, Mujib Mashal, Natalie Mayroth, Jeremy Page, Ben Parkin, Chiara Reid, Salimah Shivji, Alex Travelli, Adam Withnall