Accepting a key demand of mediapersons, foreign ministers from SAARC nations on Monday decided to give visa stickers to 50 journalists from each member country, to facilitate their movement within the region.
Immigration officials from SAARC countries will meet within a few months to see how this decision can be implemented, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon announced on Monday. The stickers will be issued by the respective governments. “The decision will be that of the government,” Menon said.
Earlier, the foreign ministers unanimously assured journalists that travel and visa restrictions would be eased, but it was unclear how soon or to what extent these would be implemented. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee went a step further and offered India’s decision to “unilaterally” liberalise visas for journalists. Mukherjee, who took over as chairman of the SAARC ministerial council on Monday, said a decision had been taken to “remove all irritants” in the way of free travel for journalists by its next meeting.
The RTI effect
Media representatives from South Asian nations at the SAARC Journalists Summit-III advocated a right to information law on the lines of the Indian legislation that RTI campaigner Arvind Kejriwal said had worked well in the country. I.A. Rehman, human rights activist and journalist, counted denial of people's right to information as a “prominent” reason contributing to the spectre of authoritarianism in South Asia. - HTC
With 2008 set to be SAARC’s Year of the Media, the foreign ministers were in a hurry to accept the key demands of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). The theme of the SAFMA summit was ‘Journalists above divides’ and was, traditionally, held on the eve of the main SAARC summit, scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
The New Delhi Declaration adopted by SAFMA suggests that pending a final resolution on free movement for journalists, 50 journalists from the “mainstream media” of each member country “be granted SAARC stickers for free travel and cumbersome procedures of intelligence clearance for the grant of visa in some countries be immediately waived”.