Sunday, June 16, 2024

Race to the bottom: The Hindu Editorial on the tit-for-tat moves by China and India on media visas

China’s decision to “freeze” the visas of two Indian journalists, including The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent, has shown how journalists have unfortunately been dragged into rising geopolitical tensions between the neighbours. China’s government, on April 6, 2023 said its decision was a response to India taking steps aimed at Chinese journalists. In 2017, China said, India had shortened the visas for India-based reporters to three months, down from the one year that is the norm in both countries. Then on March 31 this year, reports said, a Xinhua reporter was told to leave India. With Beijing’s retaliatory move, there are only two Indian reporters in China, who have been warned of countermeasures if Chinese visas were not restored to one year validity. It is now entirely possible that there will be no reporters from the world’s two largest countries covering the other — a most unfortunate development amid worsening relations. Restoring the access of journalists on the basis of reciprocity is not complex. Indeed, until 2016, reporters from both countries were on one-year visas and largely left to do their work. The troubles began that year, when three Xinhua reporters were expelled after visiting a Tibetan settlement without permission from the Home Affairs Ministry, which subsequently began placing all Chinese reporters on three-month visas.

India appears to increasingly be following the Chinese playbook by tightening scrutiny on foreign reporters in general. India has, as G-20 host, highlighted the strength of its democracy, but recent actions, including the government’s over-the-top response to a BBC documentary, appear to show insecurity. While New Delhi is right to scrutinise non-journalistic activities of some Chinese reporters, restricting all of them will be counterproductive. On the spectrum of Chinese media coverage — largely negative on India — ground reports have been among the more multifaceted, showing sides of India that most Chinese usually do not get to see. Beijing, meanwhile, also stands to lose from its decision to restrict Indian media access. Last year’s fake news of a coup in China, published in Indian websites, highlighted the absence of on-the-ground context. Moreover, if Beijing is now justifying its freezing of visas by pointing to reciprocity, it should be aware that reciprocity would also mean giving Indian organisations the kind of freedom that Chinese media enjoy in India. Even in the absence of Chinese employees, Xinhua and CGTN can continue to report with their Indian journalists. In contrast, Beijing bars foreign media organisations from hiring Chinese journalists except as assistants. In this race to the bottom, both sides stand to lose.

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