Reporting in India ‘too difficult’ under Modi, says departing Australian journalist

<span>The ABC’s Avani Dias says the Modi government made her ‘feel so uncomfortable’ that she left India.</span><span>Photograph: ABC</span>
The ABC’s Avani Dias says the Modi government made her ‘feel so uncomfortable’ that she left India.Photograph: ABC

The south-Asia correspondent for Australia’s national broadcaster, Avani Dias, has been forced out of India after her reporting fell foul of the Indian government, in a sign of the increasing pressure on journalists in the country under Narendra Modi.

Dias, who has been based in Delhi for the ABC since January 2022, said she felt the government had made it “too difficult” for her to continue to do her job, claiming it blocked her from accessing events, issued takedown notices to YouTube for her news stories, and then refused her a standard visa renewal.

Dias was told by the Indian government that her visa, which was due for renewal, would be blocked, she says in the final episode of her podcast, Looking for Modi.

The decision came after the Indian government issued a takedown notice to YouTube for an episode of Foreign Correspondent, the ABC’s flagship international news program, that she reported.

The episode covered the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist, in Canada last year. Canada accused the Indian government of being involved in his murder, straining relations between the two nations.

Dias says a ministry official called to inform her of the decision regarding her visa.

“He specifically said it was because of my Sikh separatist story, saying it had gone too far,” she said.

Australia lobbied India on Dias’ behalf, and less than 24 hours before Dias and her partner were due to leave the country, the Indian government overturned its decision and renewed her visa for two months.

However, Dias said that by this point it was clear that it would be too difficult for her to stay and continue her work as an independent journalist. She returned to Australia on the weekend.

“It felt too difficult to do my job in India. I was struggling to get into public events run by Modi’s party, the government wouldn’t even give me the passes I need to cover the election and the ministry left it all so late, that we were already packed up and ready to go,” she said in her podcast.

“It’s all by design. The Narendra Modi government has made me feel so uncomfortable that we decided to leave. There’s always a feeling of unease that this sort of backlash could come your way as a journalist in India, I’ve felt it the whole time I’ve been here, so have my colleagues from other publications.”

Related: India blocks access to documentary about death of Sikh activist in Canada

Since Modi came to power in 2014, foreign correspondents in India have faced increasing pressure from the government over their reporting. Foreign journalists have been given shorter visas after publishing stories critical of the Modi government and they have faced reprimands from government figures for coverage deemed negative. Those on foreign journalist visas also have restricted access to large swathes of the country, including the restive region of Kashmir.

Last year, the offices of the BBC were raided in Delhi and Mumbai by the Indian tax authorities after the broadcast of a documentary that examined Modi’s role in the 2001 Gujarat riots in which almost 800 Muslims were killed and took place when he was chief minister. The government also invoked emergency laws to ban the documentary being shared online.

Several foreign journalists who were working in India under OCI status, a special residency card given to those of Indian origin or who are married to Indians, have also had their permission to work as journalists revoked after they produced critical reports.

In January, Vanessa Dougnac, a French journalist who had lived in India for 22 years, said she left the country after the government denied her permission to work as a journalist and said they intended to cancel her OCI card, because her reports created a “biased negative perception of India”.

The managing director of the ABC, David Anderson, said: “The ABC fully backs and stands by the important and impactful reporting by Avani Dias during her time as ABC correspondent in India. Avani joins the Four Corners team as a reporter in coming weeks. The ABC believes strongly in the role of independent journalism across the globe, and freedom of the press outside Australia.”

Avani Dias and the Indian ministry of external affairs were contacted for comment.