Is India stalling visa renewal for two Sri Lankan journalists with BBC in Delhi?

The journalists apparently applied for extensions in November, but there’s been no update since.

WrittenBy:Avdhesh Kumar
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Following the Income Tax department’s “surveys” of BBC’s offices in India in February, two foreign journalists with the BBC have found themselves in a quandary in Delhi.

The two journalists are from Sri Lanka and work in the British broadcaster’s Sinhalese department in Delhi. Their one-year visas expire at the end of May. Both of them applied for visa extensions in November last year – but their applications are still pending with the ministry of external affairs.

The journalists declined to speak for this report. 

A journalist at the BBC Delhi office said, on condition of anonymity, “The government is neither rejecting nor extending their visa extension application. Both applied for an extension in November itself. Everyone is worried about this.” Newslaundry could not verify whether other foreign journalists working for the BBC in India face similar issues.

The BBC staffer added, “Ever since the documentary was made on Modi, the government has been continuously targeting the BBC in one way or another.”

The documentary in question was titled India: The Modi Question. Airing in January, the first episode questioned the role Modi played in the Gujarat riots. It had one big bombshell – that a UK enquiry team filed a report concluding that the violence was “politically motivated” and the “aim was to purge Muslims from Hindu areas”.

The Modi government then invoked emergency provisions of the Information Technology Act to order YouTube and Twitter to take down links to the documentary, which otherwise aired only in the UK. 

A month later, the IT “surveys” took place. In April, the Enforcement Directorate registered a case against the BBC under the Foreign Exchange Management Act, alleging “foreign direct investment violations”.

“This is creating an atmosphere of insecurity among BBC employees,” the BBC Delhi journalist said. A second BBC journalist in Delhi echoed these concerns: “The fear of losing jobs has set in among employees.” 

The broadcaster’s top management seems cognisant of these fears. Employees told Newslaundry that in an internal communication, Rupa Jha, India head of BBC News, had urged staffers to maintain trust and keep internal documents confidential.

Newslaundry emailed a questionnaire on the visa issues to Anouska Russell, a BBC News spokesperson based in London. An automated reply indicated that she’s out of office until May 29. Robin Miller, the head of communications (international news) in London, said he had “no comment”.

This report was first published in Newslaundry Hindi. It was translated to English by Shardool Katyayan.

Update at 1.18 pm, May 24: Names have been removed to protect the identity of journalists.

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