South Asian foreign ministers have at long last agreed to a 2001 proposal by the South Asian Free Media Association to provide visa free travel for journalists within the region,but with certain limitations.
The proposal was first mooted by SAFMA during the 2001 SAARC summit in Nepal and pursued at successive summits,but certain countries(not Sri Lanka) expressed reservations and put off decision making for a later date.
Relentless pursuit of their demand finally paid dividends when foreign ministers attending the recently concluded 14 th SAARC summit in New Delhi,agreed to the proposal after much deliberation.
In the interim it was decided to issue visa free travel stickers for 50 journalists from each country.The journalists would be selected by the respective governments,Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said.
The New Delhi Declaration adopted by `SAARC journalists Summit III`which met on the eve of the SAARC summit, proposed that pending a final decision on free movement of all journalists meeting the required critieria,50 from the `mainstream media`of each member country be given stickers for visa free travel within the region.
India has already offered to unilaterally liberalise visas for journalists.
All irritants in the way of free travel for journalists will hopefully be cleared at the next meeting of SAARC foreign ministers,India`s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.
This years SAFMA summit had as its theme `Journalists above Divides` and was held at the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi.
With SAARC designating 2008 as `Year of the Media` it is hoped that all outstanding demands of journalists would be granted before the next summit,a SAFMA spokesperson said.