Threat to expel French reporter sends disturbing signal for future of journalism in India

As French President Emmanuel Macron is expected in India on 25 January for a two-day official visit, a French reporter who has been based in the country for more than 20 years is threatened with expulsion. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Indian authorities not to carry out their decision to expel her and to allow all foreign journalists in India to report without fear.

Based in India since 2001 reporting for such French-language media as the newsweekly Le Point and the newspapers Le Soir and La Croix, Vanessa Dougnac was notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 18 January of the imminent withdrawal of her status as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), a lifetime residency permit granted to foreigners who, like Dougnac, are the spouses of Indian citizens. She has until 2 February to challenge the decision, which – if confirmed – will force her to leave India.

The notice sent to Dougnac, which RSF has seen, accuses her of journalistic activities that are “malicious and critical in manner that they create biased negative perception about India” and are “inimical to the interested of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India and to the interests of the general public.”

 But RSF has learned that Dougnac has refrained from any reporting in India since September 2022, when she was told that her request for a work permit had been refused. Complying with this decision, Dougnac has since then only done reporting in neighbouring countries.

How many foreign journalists will be able to continue working in India if a professional such as Vanessa Dougnac is expelled. None of the accusations leveled against her is supported. If the threat materializes while the French president is on an official visit, this would send a terrible signal for the future of journalism in India. We urge the authorities not to carry out this threat of expulsion and to allow all foreign media correspondents to work freely in India.

South Asia desk
Reporters Without Borders

Overseas Citizen of India card holders were free to work as journalists until 2022, when the authorities made them apply for a special permit, which Dougnac was refused without any grounds being given. She was simply told: “Your application for OCI activity permission to undertake journalistic activity in India has been denied by the competent authority.”

Online smear campaign

 Ever since it was first reported that Dougnac was facing probable expulsion, she has been the target of waves of attacks by trolls close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), especially on X (the former Twitter). Dozens of them reacted to a post in support of Dougnac by John Reed, the New Delhi-based head of the Financial Times South Asia bureau.

The defamatory posts about Dougnac were also fuelled by a slanderous profile of her on the pro-BJP website OpIndia. Reaching as many as 45,000 persons at a time, or even more, the visibility of these online attacks is alarming.

Increasingly oppressive climate for journalists

 The surreal accusations leveled against Dougnac are typical of the increasing authoritarianism displayed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which seeks to bring journalists into line and discredit any independent media. Press freedom in the country that claims to be “the world’s biggest democracy” has declined steadily since Modi became prime minister in 2014. The government’s leading targets are Independent media outlets and journalists in the northern Kashmir region, but India-based reporters for foreign media are not spared.

159/ 180
Score : 31.28
Published on