India blacklists Danish journalists over damning documentaries
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India blacklists Danish journalists over damning documentaries

Journalists from Danish public broadcaster DR have been allegedly blacklisted by India. The news came out on February 1 after award-winning investigative journalist Tom Heinemann was denied a visa by the Indian Embassy in Copenhagen.

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Tom Heinemann and his wife Lotte la Cour

The immediate trigger was said to be the broadcast of a documentary series “Blood, sweat and T-shirts”, which shows the plight of Danish youth working in the Indian textile industry. Heinemann has apparently been in the bad books with the Indian authorities since he made a film in 2005 called “A Killer Bargain”, an indictment of Danish companies violating Indian labour laws.

Emails to the Indian Embassy in Copenhagen went unanswered, but the authorities confirmed to Jyllands-Posten newspaper that doors had been closed to reporters from the state-funded corporation.

“We had a very bad experience with DR, so they are excluded,” a spokesman who declined to be named said. “All other Danish journalists are welcome.”

The 2010 film followed a group of young Danes sent to work in the booming Indian textile industry. Episodes showed the youngsters living in squalid conditions, arguing with employers over wages, and struggling to get enough cash together to even purchase a few items of fruit for breakfast.

Heinemann has himself not been on good terms with Indian authorities since his 2005 film, which he had made while visiting the country on a tourist visa. What has made matters worse is that the Indian embassy on Wednesday stamped three letters ‘VAF’ on his passport, as well as that of his wife Lotte la Cour, his regular cameraperson. VAF stands for ‘Visa Application Failed’ and, according to Heinemann, this stamp makes his passport virtually useless in many of the countries he would like to visit.

He said: “It’s something you write in the passport of alleged terrorists and villains. I am persona non grata in India for life. And now I have to switch passports; otherwise I can’t go into a lot of other countries.”

So what can he do? Heinemann told this correspondent, “We can only do one thing. Throw away the passports – and get new ones (it will cost us around US$275)”.

Heinemann has even apologised to the Indian Embassy for making the earlier film while on a tourist visa. He has so far not not received a response.

The Danish journalist is also being hounded by the US-based Grameen Foundation after he made “The Micro Debt” which looks at the darker side of the microcredit finance success in Bangladesh.

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A still from the Film 'A Killer Bargain'. The workers are mostly from Bihar and they work in the acid baths in Sanganer outside Jaipur, bleaching cotton for western companies. The fumes are highly toxic and have an adverse effect on the health of workers.

Meanwhile, a Facebook event has been set up by Lene Rimestad, an associate professor at the Centre for Journalism, University of Southern Denmark, to take up the issue of Heinemann and other DR journalists. Rimestad said, “Yes, the Danish Union of Journalists has taken up the issue, and the Danish Foreign Ministry has declared it will go into the issue, too. The union website has an interview with an employee who is in charge of the Asia-division from the foreign ministry, Martin Bille Hermann. He says that the ministry will talk to the union. But there is no news yet.”

Elisabeth Geday, DR’s head of communication and human resources, told the Copenhagen Post that she first became aware of the problem late last year. “I don’t know all of the details. We are working with the Foreign Ministry, so I can’t say too much. We are hopeful that a solution will be found.”

More about Tom Heinemann here

More about A Killer Bargain here