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Concern over access to US press during Obama’s visit: White House

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Expressing concern over access being given to the American press during Barack Obama’s visit to India, the U.S. on Friday cautioned that not resolving those issues could have an impact on the coverage of the President’s trip.

“I think that he (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) and his government understand that not successfully resolving some of the concerns that have been raised about press access could have an impact on the coverage of the president’s trip,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

“That’s certainly something that we want to work hard to avoid, and I’m confident that our partners in India will want to avoid that too,” he said.

He was responding to a question from the Los Angeles Times’ reporter Christie Parsons, also president of the White House Correspondents Association, seeking access for the entire White House pool to all events related to the U.S. President.

Mr. Obama would be in India from January 25 to January 27, during which he would be attending events in New Delhi including the Republic Day Parade on January 26 and a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra the next day.

Neither Mr. Earnest nor reporter gave specific details of the press access issues, but it is understood that they are pushing for full access to all the events related to the U.S. President.

The WHCA, which is celebrating its 100 years, represents correspondents who cover the U.S. President on a daily basis.

There is a long established tradition of a pool of White House correspondents — trailing the President round the clock, which is sent to all WHCA members.

Noting that the talks are still going on with Indian officials, Mr. Earnest hoped that it would be resolved during the trip.

Notably during the last India trip of the U.S. President in November 2010, the then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had blocked the door from being closed by the Indian security officials and threatened to walk away with Mr. Obama from the venue as some of the White House press pool reporters were denied entry.

Mr. Earnest said press access is one conversation that the White House has with other governments leading up to presidential visits anytime the president goes anywhere.

“We want to make sure that you and your colleagues have the opportunity to get some access to the President and get a good sense about what the president’s doing when he is representing the United States of America on foreign soil,” he said.

“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. Sometimes that can make those negotiations more complicated,” Mr. Earnest noted.

“Fortunately, we’re travelling 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,” he said.

“Because we share these values, I do anticipate that we’ll be able to resolve many of the concerns that we’ve articulated to them about press access in India,” Mr. Earnest said and referred to some of the logistics issues resolved during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to the U.S. last year.

“There were some complicated logistics associated with the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States last year, and we were able to work through those logistical concerns in a way that reflects the strong working relationship that exists not just between the US and India but also the strong working relationship that exists between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi,” Mr. Earnest said.

“Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated — and he did this when he visited the U.S. last year — a sophisticated understanding of the way that his actions and his government’s actions are reported in the media. He has a very strong following of Indian-Americans who are closely watching his administration and are excited about his leadership,” he said.

After Obama’s maiden meeting with Modi at the Oval Office, the White House had gone out of its way to let two Indian media outlets including the official Doordarshan to telecast live the joint press appearance of the two leaders.

Such a facility is rare and is not even accorded to the mainstream American press.

Responding to questions, Earnest recalled how a similar issue was resolved during a recent visit of Obama to China.

“We succeeded in persuading our counterparts in China to provide what we believe was important access both to President Obama and to President Xi while President Obama was travelling in China,” he said.

“If we can resolve those logistical concerns with a country that has a somewhat different view of the news media than do we do, then surely, we should be able to resolve logistical concerns with a country that shares our value of a free and independent professional media,” Mr. Earnest said.

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