The Indian media based in Washington, DC is angry with the White House decision to grant interviews with President George W Bush -- on the eve of his visit to India -- to just two Indian newspapers.
In a protest letter to the White House, correspondents representing the Press Trust of India, United News of India, Hindustan Times, The Telegraph, Deccan Herald, India Abroad and rediff.com wrote that they 'are extremely concerned and disturbed to learn that President George W Bush is to selectively give interviews to The Times of India and another Indian newspaper called Dainik Bhaskar before his departure to India.'
The Times of India is the largest circulated English newspaper in India, while Dainik Bhaskar is the nation's largest circulated Hindi newspaper.
The White House move is a departure from the practice of a presidential roundtable with correspondents representing the media of a particular country preceding his visit to that nation.
The journalists pointed out that 'several of us had put in either written or oral requests for meeting the President and we were all hoping that the White House would not depart from the frequent practice of hosting a roundtable for correspondents from the country he is visiting.'
They complained 'it is upsetting for all of us, who have spent long years in (Washington,) DC reporting on America and Indo-US relations, that we are all proposed to be excluded from this exercise and that two newspapers have been selectively picked to interview the President.'
'Expanding the proposed interview to two Indian dailies to include all of us in a roundtable with the President will ensure that stories based on that interview will reach every corner of India and that ten of millions more of Indians will have access to the President's message through our outlets.'
'Our readership is spread across Indian states where there is considerable opposition to policies of the Bush Administration and skepticism about the Indo-US deal,' the letter continued. 'We believe it is important that the President reaches out to readers in such states.'
The letter said 'even the interview which the President plans to give separately to Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan would not compensate for such shortcomings. The publishing houses that we represent have dailies in several Indian languages, significantly enhancing our reach way beyond that of either of the newspapers that the President proposes to meet under the present arrangement.'
Indian embassy officials denied they had recommended the two newspapers to the White House for the interview with the President.
Indian officials said the US embassy in New Delhi had made the recommendations.
Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen vehemently denied that the Indian embassy had anything to do with the White House decision.
"We don't recommend anything," Ambassador Sen said. "They (the Americans) decide themselves completely on their own and we don't make any recommendations in this regard."
Asked if the recommendations had come solely from the US embassy in Delhi, the ambassador said, "They do it in consultations, but actually the final call is here (the White House)."
"I mean it is not even State (Department) or anything like that who decides," Sen asserted, adding that "the person who finally calls the shots will be their (President Bush's) press adviser -- the same as in our case."