The BBC said on February 14 that it is “fully cooperating” with the Income Tax (IT) authorities who are at its offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and hoped that the situation will be resolved “as soon as possible”.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, the UK-headquartered public broadcaster, did not give further details of what has been described as “surveys” by the IT department, which reportedly involved local BBC staff being prevented from entering the office premises and their mobile phones being shut down.
“The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating,” a BBC spokesperson said in a statement. “We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.
The IT action comes weeks after the broadcaster aired its controversial India: The Modi Question documentary, which focussed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s time as the Chief Minister of Gujarat when riots took place in 2002.
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The Indian government branded the two-part series a “propaganda piece”, designed to push a particular “discredited narrative”. “The bias, lack of objectivity and continuing colonial mindset is blatantly visible,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said at the time it was aired in the UK last month.
The documentary also triggered coordinated Indian diaspora protests at BBC offices across different UK cities at the end of last month. The UK government responded in the House of Commons to the protests by insisting the BBC as a media organisation was “independent in its outlet” and reiterating its commitment to enhancing ties with India.
“We recognise how this portrayal of the Indian government has played out in India. I made it clear that the BBC is independent in its output, that the UK regards India as an incredibly important international partner and that we will be investing heavily in that relationship in the coming decades,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said earlier this month.
His remarks were later echoed by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson in Downing Street: “The BBC is independent in its output and we would stress that we continue to regard India as an incredibly important international partner. We will be investing heavily in our relationship with India over the coming decades and we’re confident it will only go from strength to strength.”
Editors Guild issues statement
The Editors Guild of India said it was “deeply concerned” about the IT surveys at the offices of BBC India and termed it as a continuation of a “trend” of using government agencies to “intimidate and harass” media outlets critical of the ruling establishment.
In a statement, the Guild also demanded that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations.
“The survey by the I-T department is in continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment,” the Guild said in a statement here. The Guild noted that the IT survey came soon after the release of two documentaries by the BBC on the 2002 violence in Gujarat and the current status of the minorities in India.
It recalled that IT surveys were conducted in 2021 at the offices of NewsClick, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, and Bharat Samachar. “In each case, the raids and surveys were against the backdrop of critical coverage of the government establishment by the news organisations,” the Guild said. “This is a trend that undermines constitutional democracy.”
The Guild reiterated its earlier demand that governments ensure that such investigations are conducted within the prescribed rules and that they don’t degenerate into instruments of harassment to intimidate independent media.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra asked if the “raids” on the BBC’s offices would be followed by one on “Mr A” in an apparent dig at Adani Group chief Gautam Adani.
“Since agencies doing these Valentine Day ‘Surveys’ how about @IncomeTaxIndia, @SEBI_India & @dir_ed conduct one on govt’s most valued sweetheart Mr. A?,” she said in a tweet tagging SEBI and the Enforcement Directorate.
“Reports of Income Tax raid at BBC’s Delhi office. Wow, really? How unexpected. Meanwhile farsaan seva for Adani when he drops in for a chat with Chairman @SEBI_India office,” the TMC MP said in another tweet.
US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research, in a report, has alleged financial irregularities and stock manipulation in shares of Adani Group companies and the opposition has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the issue. The Adani Group has dismissed the allegations as baseless.
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Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said the IT department’s survey operation at the BBC’s offices in Mumbai and Delhi was “brazen hounding of the critics” of the BJP-led government at the Centre.
“Cause & effect of raids on the BBC Office is quite obvious. GOI is brazenly hounding those who speak the truth. Be it opposition leaders, media, activists or anyone else for that matter. The gloves are off & there is a price one pays for fighting for truth,” Mufti tweeted.
(with inputs from PTI)