India reminds foreign journalists to take prior permission for reporting from Kashmir. Reuters file photo for representation

The adverse reporting on Kashmir in the past one year by foreign media outlets might have led the government of India to pull out its rule book and remind foreign journalists that they require prior permission to travel "restricted and protected areas" as enlisted by the Bureau of Immigration.

On May 22 this year, letters were sent out to foreign news outlets based in Delhi by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) external publicity division addressing the "important issue of travel of foreign journalists to certain areas which come under restricted/protected zone without special permit/clearance."

The letters were sent out reminding the foreign journalists that they need to take requisite permits but the fact that these foreign journalists have always taken permission if they have to travel to the North East and border areas in other states, leaves out only the Kashmir where most foreign journalists do not take permission to travel to at least Srinagar.

MEA sources tell India Today this is merely "reiteration of long-standing policy governing the entry of foreign reporters to restricted and protected areas and that there is no bar on reporting trips to the state"

The source also added that areas that lie under restricted territory change every now and again depending on the security assessment done by MHA. "Advice on restricted/protected areas that may be visited by foreign journalists by prior approval of government of India is issued from time to time based on inputs received by Ministry of Home Affairs," said the source.

The bigger issue is that while MEA acts as a go-between for so many years, the MHA has not made the effort of updating its own website in defining the "parts" that fall under "protected" and "restricted" territories, enabling journalists to look up the website and only apply when they are travelling to such areas.

The MHA has kept these areas open ended without specifying those areas. Therefore, now reviving the cumbersome act of journalists applying to the MEA and then waiting for the Home Ministry to inform them if the areas are "protected" or "restricted"

Many foreign correspondents who have travelled to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and reported widely from there say that they never in the past had to seek permits to travel to Srinagar.

That might have changed for them with the notice that was served to the organisations by MEA saying, "It has come to the notice of the Ministry of External Affairs that some foreign journalists based in India, while discharging their journalistic activities for tourism purposes, have travelled to places which come under restricted/protected areas that require prior permission/special permit."

"Travel to these protected/restricted areas without prior approval/special permission may cause unnecessary access related issues resulting in inconvenience for the journalist," it added.

What is a bigger concern for these foreign journalists is that the rules say that they would have to apply eight weeks in advance if they wish to travel to these states which is will be an impediment in reporting developing stories from the valley

The Foriegn Correpsondents' Club (FCC) has taken note of the development and will be taking up the matter with the concerned ministries, the MEA and the MHA.

FCC President S Venkat Narayan said, "The Foreign Secretary as well as the Home Minister are due to speak at the FCC in coming weeks. We propose to take up this issue with both MEA and MHA."

There are some journalists who are now awaiting clearance from the MEA to travel to Kashmir for reporting purposes. The last such reminder was sent in December 2016 when the situation was quite tense after the terrorist Burhan Wani was killed by the forces, but the email only enlisted the areas that fall under "restricted" territory.

Sources tell India Today, "Journalists have to adhere to guidelines. MEA's job is to tell them what the MHA directive. It is up to them to follow it or not. Any violation that occurs, the MEA is intimated. Implementation of action against such violations falls under MHA. MEA merely reminding them of the rules."

The MEA letter attaches a format on how to apply for "special permits" and clearly says, "An advance information, in requisite format, to the Ministry of External Affairs before your visit would help us in facilitating/arranging special permit from relevant agencies, where it is required , for your travel inside those States/area."