The tax surveys at BBC's office in Delhi and Mumbai continued for the second day on Wednesday. The British public broadcaster said that it was fully cooperating with the Income Tax officials who along with police arrived at BBC's offices on Tuesday morning.
"The Income Tax Authorities remain at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Many staff have now left the building but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing enquiries," BBC said in a statement on Tuesday night, adding that "output and journalism" would continue as normal. "We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible," BBC said.
Several journalists who were inside the Delhi office premises at the time of the raid said their phones were seized.
Reports said that the surveys were being conducted over alleged tax evasion and irregularities pertaining to international tax and TDS transactions.
The IT survey is being seen as a witchhunt on the news broadcaster after it aired a documentary series, titled 'India: The Modi Question'. The two-part series revealed a previously unpublished report by a British inquiry team which said that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the state’s chief minister, was “directly responsible for a climate of impunity” that led to the violence in the Gujarat riots.
Calling it "propaganda", the Indian government had ordered YouTube and Twitter to take down links to the BBC documentary. The directions were issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, invoking powers under the IT Rules, 2021.
People from various corners expressed deep concern about the tax survey on the BBC. The media bodies condemned the action and called it a "demonising" move to silence the press. The opposition leaders, including TMC's Mahua Moitra and Congress's KC Venugopal, criticised it for "intimidation". "This undemocratic and dictatorial attitude cannot go on any longer," Venugopal said.
Meanwhile, the US also issued a statement saying that they are aware of the issue.
Here's a look at the reactions following the tax survey on BBC.
'Intimidating Media To Silence': Media Bodies
Condemning the raids at BBC, Mumbai Press Club said that the Centre and some state governments are "demonising" the media houses for refusing to follow the government's "perspective".
"In recent days, we have seen a series of coordinated Income Tax raids on the offices of Dainik Bhaskar Group, UP-bases TV network Bharat Live, and news portals such as Newsclick and Newslaundry among others," Mumbai Press Club said. It further said that the "timing" of the raids is too precise to miss the signal to the entire media that criticism of the government will prompt such actions.
Expressing concern over the raids, DIGIPUB News India Foundation said that the 'surveys' smack of retribution to silence free and fair speech and expression. "They not only tar India's global image as a mature democracy but could also impair relations between friendly nations. This incident emulates a highly worrying trend of deploying Government agencies to 'investigate', intimidating the media into silence." it said.
Editors Guild Of India said the IT surveys on BBC are in "continuation of a trend of using government agencies" to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of the ruling establishment.
"This is a trend that undermines constitutional democracy. The Guild demands that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations," it said in a statement.
What Did Political Leaders Say?
Moitra in a series of tweets took a dig at the Centre over the tax surveys.
Congress party's Venugopal said the raids "reek of desperation"."The IT raid at BBC’s offices reeks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism," he wrote on Twitter.
"At the time India holds the Presidency of the G-20 nations, PM Modi continues to brazenly show India’s slide into authoritarianism and dictatorship. Raids on BBC, clean chit to Adani, tax cuts for rich, people’s homes being bull dozed, inequality and unemployment on the rise," Congress's Gaurav Gogoi tweeted.
Congress communication head Jairam Ramesh said that while the party demanded to set up a joint parliamentrary committee (JPC) to probe the Adani issue, the Centre went after the BBC.
Meanwhile, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia called the BBC the "most corrupt organisation in the world" as he termed the searches were lawful and the timing had nothing to do with the government.
"India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation as long as you don't spew venom," BBC quoted him as saying.
What Has The US Said?
Meanwhile, the US has said that it is aware of the situation at BBC's offices in India but is not in a position to offer its judgement.
"We are aware of the search of the BBC offices in Delhi by Indian tax authorities. I would need to refer you to Indian authorities for the details of this search. Beyond this discrete action, what I'll say more broadly is the general point that I've consistently made in this context, but in a universal context as well," PTI quoted US State Department spokesperson Ned Price as saying.
"We support the importance of free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country. It has strengthened India's democracy," he added.
India's rank on World Press Freedom Index in 2022 fell to 150 from 142 in 2021 on a list of 180 countries. Reporters Without Borders had said that media in democratic countries such as India are facing pressure "from increasingly authoritarian and/or nationalist governments."
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