G20 India: Multitude of reporters, 1,300 workstations, good food, but sorry, no questions

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi, Sep 9 (EFE).- Thousands of journalists, including foreigners, 1,300 workstations in brightly lit, sprawling, and air-conditioned halls, fast internet connectivity, free-flowing tea and coffee, and sumptuous Indian food.

There is almost everything for the journalists covering India’s much-anticipated G20 moment to write and wire their stories and visuals, except for what makes them journalists – the opportunity to ask questions.

Foreign journalists, in particular, are voicing their frustration over the limited access to meetings and summit venues where leaders from the world’s 20 wealthiest nations will discuss global issues throughout the weekend.

Reporters accompanying President Joe Biden on his visit to India have complained to the White House about their limited access to G20 events.

The complaints have spurred White House advisors to exert pressure on the Indian government to grant journalists more extensive access.

White House Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told journalists in the Indian capital that he, along with other officials, has conveyed to the Indian government that “the United States advocates for broader press access.”

“However, at the end of the day, the Indians are the hosts of this event. They have a set of protocols they adhere to, and we will continue to advocate for access, as we do in all visits and encounters the president has,” Finer said.

US journalists were particularly disheartened on Friday when they were denied entry to the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Biden and Modi held their meeting, journalists covering the US president were made to wait in vans outside, an unusual departure from the customary practice of allowing the American press to witness the commencement of the president’s meetings with other leaders.

Typically, a group of approximately 13 or 14 journalists, including photographers and camera persons, referred to as the “pool,” is granted access to the initial stages of such meetings.

The White House said that their request for access to journalists for the Modi meeting was declined.

The impression at the International Media Centre with world class facilities set up for the journalists covering the G20 event looks the same.

A foreign journalist, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions, said “the restrictions have been frustrating.”

“The media access is far limited compared to the G20 summit in Bali (Indonesia) last year,” the journalist told EFE at the media center.

“Coming here (the media center) was so difficult. So much of security checks and then the bar on accessing venues. In Bali, I could literally walk into the G20 venue,” she said.

Global rights and journalist bodies have often raised questions about India’s state of press freedom, particularly after Modi came to power almost 10 years ago.

India figures at the unenviable 161 spot on the 2023 global press freedom index, 11 down from last year’s place.

While access to G20 meetings is limited, the arrangements to facilitate the media’s coverage of the summit are extensive.

Among the facilities are over 1,300 workstations with high-speed internet connectivity, a clean feed for TV channels to be relayed by the official Doordarshan broadcaster, separate interview rooms, and media briefing rooms.

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