THE expulsion order handed out to the two Indian journalists in Pakistan, Snehesh Alex Philip and Meena Menon, earlier this week hardly reflects well on either journalistic freedoms in Pakistan, or the latter’s respect for the Fourth Estate. Working with the Press Trust of India and The Hindu newspaper respectively, both were first curtly told over the phone that their visas would not be renewed and they would have to leave by May 20; the official, written communication was delivered only later. Mr Philip and Ms Menon, both of whom arrived here last August, ironically after their predecessors were packed off in similar fashion, now find themselves in a quandary: the next flight is on the 21st.
It is unfortunate that the state resorts to expelling foreign journalists for unexplained reasons, and in such an ungracious manner. It has just been a year, after all, that the New York Times’ Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh, was similarly asked to leave at short notice. In the case of India and Pakistan, the practice results in even more damaging consequences. Given the politics between the two, it is important that reportage about the other country come from first-hand sources, from a domestic perspective. The rivals allow in only two correspondents representing the other country’s news industry at a time. Pakistani news organisations have tended not send local journalists across. But Indian organisations continue to make the effort, recognising perhaps that their audiences benefit. Whenever incidents such as these occur, it proves virtually impossible to pin down exactly what level the decision was taken at, and by which branch of the state, and why. This opens up the possibility of the administration remaining hostage to shadowy ‘state within the state’ elements. It is now for the Ministry of Information to make its position clear, and at the very least make public the exact reason why Mr Philip and Ms Menon have been asked to leave.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014