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French journalist plays victim alleging MHA denied renewing his journalism permit, says he has been deprived of income by India: Foreign correspondents need to stop treating visa as their right

Francis was a member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of South Asia in Delhi, and had prevented a press conference by Vivek Agnihotri at the club in 2022

On 20th June, French Journalist Sebastien Farcis announced on social media that he had been denied a permit to work as a journalist in India and had to leave the country.

In his statement, he said that he had lived and worked as a journalist in India for 13 years as a South Asia correspondent for Radio France Internationale, Radio France, Libération and the Swiss and Belgian public radios. In March 2024, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) denied renewing his journalist permit. He claimed that the step taken by the Home Ministry prevented him from practising his profession and deprived him of his income. Furthermore, he claimed that no reason was provided to him to justify the “work ban” despite formal and repeated requests made to the ministry.

He wrote, “I have been working as a journalist in India since 2011, and have obtained all the necessary visas and accreditations. I have respected the regulations imposed in India for foreign journalists and never worked in restricted or protected areas without a permit. On several occasions, the MHA even granted me permits to report from border areas.”

As he was provided permissions and permits before, this time denial to renew his permit was shocking for him. Calling it incomprehensible censorship, he claimed that he was forbidden to cover the Lok Sabha Elections 2024, the largest democratic elections in the world.

Farcis is married to an Indian woman and holds an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI). He claimed that the decision of the Government of India to not extend his work permit has impacted his family. “I am therefore deeply attached to India, which has become my second homeland. But with no more work nor income, my family has been pushed out of India without explanation, and uprooted overnight for no apparent reason,” he wrote.

He pointed out that other foreign correspondents have also been denied a permit to work in India and mentioned the case of French journalist Vanessa Dougnac. He said, “At least five OCI foreign correspondents have been banned from working as journalists in less than two years.” He added that he has applied for a new work permit and hopes it will be accepted. Meanwhile, he was unable to work and was forced to return to France.

Problematic history of Sebastien Farcis

First of all, Farcis needs to understand that his Visa, OCI card and work permit are privileges and not his rights. Before we dive into his tweets, it has to be noted that Francis was a member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia in Delhi. In May 2022, filmmaker Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri was scheduled to hold a press conference at the club which was cancelled abruptly and was shifted to the Press Club of India.

It was revealed that some members of the club had threatened to leave the membership if the press conference was not cancelled. Farcis was one of them, along with Emily Schmall, Tawqeer Hussain, Kumkum Chadha and others.

In April, he shared a report from his publication that there was an outcry after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Muslims “infiltrators”. The report conveniently ignored the fact that PM Modi was not talking about Muslims from India but Muslims who illegally enter India.

Source: X

He reposted a post on X by Ravi Nair where the water crisis was highlighted. The post by Nair projected as if the Union Government was responsible for the water crisis. In reality, supplying water to the people of Delhi is the responsibility of the Delhi government under the Aam Aadmi Party, which skipped the mention in the post.

Source: X

He had extended support for both Avani Das and Vanessa Dougnac when they were kicked out of India for anti-India reporting.

Source: X
Source: X

Farcis drew a narrative of Hindu-Muslim divide in income in India

Farcis has a strange talent for showing the Hindu-Muslim divide in almost anything. In January 2024, one of his reports on growth and social disparities in India was published on the sidelines of French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2-day visit to India. He mentioned that though India has experienced a strong growth of 7% annually which has attracted French companies to invest in the country, the growth is poorly distributed and the inequalities in the country are widening.

He then gave the example of Awdesh Chaturvedi who bought a new car for “10,000 Euros” because apparently his income saw a spike after the Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, he used the example of Salma who was a domestic worker and hardly earns 100 Euros per month. He noted that she has not recovered from the Covid crisis. Salma was quoted saying that she has been unable to find work at the salary she used to get before Covid-19.

Interestingly, while the article may seem a concern of a journalist at first glance, he subtly planted a narrative that upper-class Hindus are earning more than Muslims in India. Comparing the income of a person who bought an SUV with the income of a domestic worker, assuming they are real persons Farcis met, made no sense, but he did it to drive his agenda.

The whining over Ram Mandir in Ayodhya

On the occasion of Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha, he published a report on Ram Mandir where he claimed that archaeologists had never been able to prove that the disputed structure which he described as a mosque was built after destroying a Hindu temple. Farcis, who was a foreign correspondent with decades of experience in journalism, could not do a simple search of court documents that had images of ruins of a Hindu temple found at the site of the disputed structure during the ASI survey. Furthermore, there were reports that ruins of Hindu temples were found during the construction of Ram Mandir as well.

For example, the image below is a collage of four images of ruins of Hindu temples found by ASI during the survey. These photographs were submitted to the Allahabad High Court during the hearing of the Ram Janmbhoomi case and are part of the publically available judgment documents.

Source: Allahabad High Court

He then claimed that the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Pran Pratishtha ceremony was against the secular fabric of the country. It is unclear how he concluded the Constitution of India does not stop the Prime Minister from attending any religious events.

He also whined claiming the BJP has a desire to make Hinduism a state religion. He claimed that PM Modi’s saying “The god Rama represents the foundation of India, and must guide its law” means that religion could therefore inspire legislation as in a theocracy. Farcis should have seen the original copies of the Constitution of India. He might have gotten a shock as it contained images of Bhagwan Ram and other Hindu deities.

Portrait of Bhagwan Ram in original copy of Constitution of India. Source: GoI

He claimed that voters in the north would turn towards the BJP during elections as they are “more attached” to the Ram Mandir. Again, a lack of research was evident because thousands of Ram Sewaks had travelled to Ayodhya from Southern states during the Ram Mandir movement in the 1990s. Furthermore, if he had looked at the map of India, especially the South, he would have noticed how many locations are named after Bhagwan Ram. The whole article showed how Farcis’s reporting lacked research and targeted PM Modi and Hindus unnecessarily.

An attempt to waterdown problem of Love Jihad and Indians joining ISIS

In May last year, Farcis published a report on The Kerala Story film claiming it was Islamophobic. He completely missed the point that Love Jihad is a real problem in India and there are many cases where women were converted to Islam and forced to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS. Furthermore, he made apprehensions over the film as the figures were allegedly distorted on how many women joined ISIS, completely ignoring the fact that even if one woman is converted and sent to join ISIS, should raise a major alarm for security agencies.

The Love Jihad denial

In another report in November 2020, Farcis categorically denied that Love Jihad exists. He claimed there is no proof that the phenomenon exists. Again, had he done some research, he would have found cases that proved Love Jihad exists and thriving. For example, in February 2020, it was reported that a woman found the real identity of his husband after six years of marriage. He had posed as Sonu while his real name was Aslam. In June 2020, it was reported that Riyaz posed as Hindu man to entrap a Hindu minor girl. He raped and blackmailed her. These are just two examples. Every month several such cases reported from various states in India.

The victim card playing by foreign correnspondents need to stop

While press freedom holds the utmost importance in a democracy, false and propaganda-filled narratives must be scrutinised. The portrayal of denials of work permits by the Government of India solely as acts of censorship can sometimes oversimplify complex situations. The nuanced reporting on sensitive issues like Love Jihad and communal tensions indicate that foreign journalists and host publications have an agenda against India.

Journalists must maintain their integrity and dedication to factual reporting. They must avoid the temptation to play the victim card when faced with legitimate administrative or legal consequences of their actions. These narratives can undermine the genuine struggles for press freedom.

It is crucial to have a balance in perspective while looking into cases like Sebastien Farcis. A critical examination of the content of his reporting explains why GoI was reluctant to extend his work permit. This balanced approach ensures that the fight for press freedom remains credible.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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