I-T teams ‘survey’ BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai; fully cooperating, says BBC even as Opposition slams Centre

The surprise action comes weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary on Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

BySouth First Desk

Published Feb 14, 2023 | 3:03 PMUpdatedFeb 14, 2023 | 4:42 PM

BBC documentary on PM Modi screened at University of Hyderabad

The Income Tax (I-T) Department on Tuesday, 14 February, conducted a survey operation at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) offices in Delhi and Mumbai as part of a tax evasion investigation, officials said.

The surprise action comes weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary on the 2002 Gujarat riots and the role in it of then state chief minister Narendra Modi, titled India: The Modi Question.

The I-T department is looking at documents related to the business operations of the company and those related to its Indian arm, the officials said.

As part of a survey, the Income Tax Department only covers the business premises of a company and does not raid residences and other locations of its promoters or directors.

Related: Police arrests BJP cadres for stopping screening of BBC documentary

Fully cooperating: BBC

The BBC on Tuesday confirmed the Income Tax authorities survey at its offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and said the British public broadcaster was fully cooperating with them.

“The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating. We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible,” the press office of the BBC tweeted.

Pleas seeking BBC ban quashed

Earlier, the Supreme Court on 10 February, dismissed a plea seeking to impose a complete ban on the BBC in India, saying it was “entirely misconceived”.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and MM Sundaresh passed the order while hearing a plea filed by Vishnu Gupta, president of the Hindu Sena, and Beerendra Kumar Singh, a farmer.

“The writ petition is entirely misconceived and has no merit and is accordingly dismissed,” the bench said.

Alleging that the BBC has been biased against India and the Indian government, the plea said that its documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a “result of deep conspiracy against the global rise of India and its Prime Minister”.

“The documentary film by BBC relating to Gujarat violence 2002 implicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not only reflective of anti-Narendra Modi cold propaganda broadcast to tarnish his image alone but this is anti-Hinduism propaganda by the BBC to destroy the social fabric of India,” the plea had alleged.

Related: SC rejects plea seeking to ban BBC in India

SC seeks response from Centre

On 3 February, the apex court sought responses from the Centre and others on separate petitions challenging its decision to block the documentary from being viewed in India.

The pleas, on which notice was issued by the top court, were filed by veteran journalist N Ram, Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, activist lawyer Prashant Bhushan, and lawyer ML Sharma.

The top court had on that day also directed the central government to produce original records relating to its decision to block the BBC documentary.

On 21 January, the central government issued directions for blocking multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the controversial documentary.

However, screenings of the documentary were held across the country including public spheres, and university campuses.

Editors Guild issues statement

Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India expressed concern over the Income Tax surveys at the offices of BBC India.

The statement alleged that the survey by the I-T department is a continuation of the trend of using government agencies to “harass or intimidate” press organisations who are critical of the ruling dispensation at the Centre.

“The surveys 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.”

“In September 2021, offices of NewsClick and Newslaundry were similarly “surveyed” by I-T department. In June 2021, there were surveys against Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar. In February 2021, the ED had conducted raids at the office of NewsClick. In each case, the raids and surveys were against the backdrop of critical coverage of the government establishment by the news organisations,” said Editors Guild in the statement.

The guild also alleged that the action comes as a result of BBC airing the documentary, Modi: The India Question.

“This comes 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. The documentaries stirred political waters with the government criticising the BBC for wrong and prejudiced reportage on the Gujarat violence, and attempted to ban online access and viewing of the films in India,” added the Editor’s Guild in the statement.

It also said that the action undermines constitutional democracy and demanded showing sensitivity in such investigations considering the rights of journalists and media organisations.

Opposition criticises Centre

In the wake of the I-T department survey conducted at the BBC offices, several Opposition parties and leaders poured criticism at the Centre alleging that the incident was an attack on the right to freedom of expression.

Congress general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP KC Venugopal claimed that the Modi government is afraid of criticism.

“The IT raid at BBC’s offices reeks of desperation and shows that the Modi government is scared of criticism.

We condemn these intimidation tactics in the harshest terms. This undemocratic and dictatorial attitude cannot go on any longer,” he said in a Tweet.

BRS leader and Telangana IT Minister KT Rama Rao also criticised the government.

“A few weeks after they aired the documentary on Modi, BBC India now raided by IT. Agencies like IT, CBI and ED have become laughing stock for turning into BJP’s biggest puppets. What next? ED raids on Hindenberg or a hostile takeover attempt?” KTR tweeted.

The official Twitter handle of Congress reacted to the news by tweeting an image that shows India’s rank in the World Press Freedom Index.

BRS MLC K Kavita also questioned the survey that took place at BBC offices in Mumbai and Delhi.

“The entire ruling Govt defends against probe amidst allegation on one business house & the same Govt sends its agencies behind those who show the truth ! Why?” she tweeted.

(With inputs from PTI)