Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Indian embassy in Sweden after journalists were denied visas after writing critical reports about the country.
“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”, said Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.
Freelance journalist Ulrika Nandra and foreign correspondent of daily newspaper Göteborgs-Posten, Marina Malmgren, are two of the Swedish journalists whose visa applications have been rejected. 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.
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.
Ulrika Nandra told Reporters Without Borders, ”I am sincerely shocked that a democracy should tell journalists what to write”.
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, Ulrika Nandra said.
Reliable sources have 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.
Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders: + 46 702/68 25 29
Urban Löfqvist, office head of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders: +46 70/29 98 693