Vanessa Dougnac. (Photo: X (Twitter)/@RSF_inter.)

By AFP, New Delhi

Feb 19 2024

A French journalist said Friday she was leaving India, where she had worked for more than two decades, after authorities threatened to expel her for what they termed “malicious and critical” reporting.

Critics say that media freedom in the world’s most populous democracy is increasingly under attack, with journalists who touch on sensitive topics often subjected to government rebuke.

Vanessa Dougnac, a contributor to several French-language publications including the weekly magazine Le Point, had worked in India for 23 years.

The home ministry sent her a notice last month saying that her work was “inimical” to national interests and said it had provisionally decided to cancel her permanent residency.

“Leaving is not my choice,” Dougnac said in a statement announcing her departure.

“I am unable to work and have been unfairly accused of prejudicing the interests of the state. It has become clear that I cannot keep living in India.”

Dougnac had reported on a number of flashpoint topics, including the ongoing Maoist Naxalite insurgency in parts of rural India.

The home ministry notice accused her of journalism that was “malicious and critical in manner” and created a “biased perception about India”.

She denied “all the allegations and imputations” made against her in the notice when it became public last month.

The notice was issued to her a week before the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was guest of honour at India’s annual Republic Day military parade.

India’s foreign ministry told reporters during Macron’s visit that Dougnac’s case had been raised by France before and during the visit.

“It’s deeply disheartening to witness the harassment that Vanessa Dougnac… has endured at the hands of Indian authorities in the last 17 months,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The Indian government must promptly establish a transparent mechanism that enables foreign journalists to seek redressal.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been accused of stifling independent media, with India falling 21 places to 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index since he took office in 2014.

Indian offices of the BBC were raided by the tax department last year, weeks after the British broadcaster was hit with a barrage of government criticism for airing a documentary questioning Modi’s role in 2002 religious riots. – UCA News