Reporters at the White House are always griping about what they see as a lack of access. But here in India, where the White House press corps is covering President Barack Obama’s trip, they are learning a thing or two about access -- or lack of it.
Reporters who attended the highlight of the trip -- Monday’s two-hour Republic Day parade -- were told they could not bring phones, laptops or cameras. Even ballpoint pens were confiscated, though spectators were allowed to have umbrellas to protect against a drizzle.
At the last minute, the small number of pool reporters, not the much larger traveling press, were allowed to bring phones. Barring that, the potential existed that reporters would be unable to let their colleagues -- and the rest of the world -- know what Obama was doing for several hours.
The day before, Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave what was billed as a news conference, but only a total of two questions were allowed (One each from U.S. and India media organizations). Modi, who dubbed the event a “media interaction” had not agreed to even one question until the last minute. Modi, the popular new prime minister, is apparently not a fan of news conference judging by the frequency in which he gives them.
During the quick, three-day trip, Obama’s full pool contingent who travel with the president was allowed to some events, but others included far less.
The White House Correspondents Association and the White House had been pushing for more access -- and in some cases more access was granted, but other times it was not.
It’s not just about Modi. During Obama’s last trip to India in 2010 to visit the former prime minister, then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blocked the door from being closed by Indian security and threatened to leave with Obama if reporters were not granted entry to an event.
“Sometimes these can be very challenging negotiations, particularly when we’re going to countries that don’t have the same kind of respect for -- or don’t value an independent news media,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “Sometimes that can make those negotiations more complicated. Fortunately, we’re traveling to India, which is the world’s largest democracy. And they have a very healthy and robust news media and professional news media in India. So the Indian government is well aware of how important it is for there to be a professional, independent press corps that is holding the elected leaders of that country accountable.”