Journalists up in arms over ABC correspondent’s exit from India amid visa row

Journalists up in arms over ABC correspondent’s exit from India amid visa row

A grab of Avani's Twitter Account.

Foreign journalists’ club in Delhi fails to take a stand over Avani’s sudden departure

Delhi Crown Bureau

New Delhi: Journalists, both foreign and Indian, in New Delhi are up in arms these days over the sudden departure of Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) South Asia bureau chief Avani Dias from India last week.

Avani was the second foreign journalist to have left India in a huff within this year. Earlier, on February 16 French journalist Vanessa Dougnac had to leave India after having a long stint here.

Amidst the raging controversy surrounding Avani’s un-ceremonial exit from India, a news report by “The Australian Today” said that the female journo left India on her own as she got a better job back in Australia, and also because of her recent marriage, but “not due to intimidation by the Indian government”.

The controversy triggered after Avani posted on X (on April 23) that she was denied visa by the Indian government, but then got it after the intervention of the Australian government. After spending over two years here, she boarded her “return flight” on April 19.

Her latest post on X reads – “Last week, I had to leave India abruptly. The Modi Government told me my visa extension would be denied, saying my reporting ‘crossed a line’. After Australian Government intervention, I got a mere two-month extension …less than 24 hours before my flight.”

She added, “We were also told my election accreditation would not come through because of an Indian Ministry directive. We left on day one of voting in the national election in what Modi calls ‘the mother of democracy’.”

Avani had a hot-and-cold relationship with the Indian government during her stint in New Delhi. Earlier, her reportage on India’s state of Punjab was blocked on YouTube.

Meghna Bali, who was appointed as Avani’s successor in New Delhi, had on March 27 posted on X – “YouTube has blocked @AvaniDias powerful reporting about Sikh separatism in Punjab after a demand from the Indian government. It comes two weeks after the blocking of CBC’s Fifth Estate program that featured footage of a Sikh separatist’s killing, and a year after a BBC documentary examining PM Modi’s role during 2002 Gujarat riots was banned. India’s general elections kick off on April 19.”

After Avani’s exit from India, a batch of around 30 foreign journalists wrote an open letter (dated April 23) registering their strong protest against the Government of India over the way she was “treated by Indian authorities”.

Attacking the Indian government for “pushing out” Avani on the eve of an election, the foreign journalists said that they faced an “increased restrictions on visas and journalism permits” here.

“The circumstances of Ms. Dias’s departure are further a cause of concern. We call on the Indian government to facilitate the vital work of a free press in line with India’s democratic traditions”, said the open letter purportedly written by nearly 30 journalists, but signed by none !

Among the names appearing below the letter’s text are – France24’s Bureau Chief Alban Alvarez, Spanish news agency EFE’s correspondent David Asta Alares, Swiss’ news network NZZ’s Andreas Babst, French correspondent Come Bastin, AFP’s Sebastien Berger, Italian news agency Agenzia ANSA’s correspondent Rita Cenni, freelance journalist & photographer Catherine Davison and French journalist Carole Dieterich, besides others.

Thereafter, on April 24 the Press Club of India (PCI) also wrote a letter signed by its President Gautam Lahiri and Secretary-General Neeraj Thakur, demanding of the Government of India to “come clear” on this issue and “state the reasons” behind denial of visa extension to her.

The PCI is widely perceived as a centre for Left-oriented journalists seen close to the Communist parties in India.

“We have noticed with concern reports about Australian journalist Avani Dias being compelled to leave India as she was denied extension of her visa by the government. Foreign correspondents based in India have also voiced their concern over circumstances under which ABC bureau chief was forced to leave India,” said the letter.

It added – “Such actions cast aspersions on the democratic traditions of our country. Foreign journalists also discharge their duties of carrying news and information to all corners of the world. Any uncalled for curbs on this only sullies our country’s image on international platforms and puts a blot on the working of free press in India.”

Meanwhile, the most frequented club by foreign journalists in New Delhi – The Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia (FCC of South Asia) – failed to take a stand over the issue, and was yet to issue any statement. spoke to a couple of members on the FCC’s Governing Committee, who said, “Though there are murmurs within the Governing Committee over Avani’s issue, but due to pressure from some pro-Government journalists, particularly Secretary Prakash Nanda and Treasurer PM Narayanan, there seems no plans to issue any written statement. We are told to wait and watch developments surrounding the issue.”

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