Indian journalists condemn “intimidation” of BBC

Picture shows Hindu activists demonstrating against the BBC in Delhi.  

The Press Club of India has strongly criticised the government over the searching of the BBC offices in Delhi by the tax authorities.

A staement said the action against an international broadcasting network would damage the reputation and image of India as the world’s largest democracy, and it urged the government to “restrain its agencies from misusing their powers to intimidate the media”.

It said interventions like this were part of a series of attacks by government agencies against sections of the media the government perceived to be hostile and critical of the ruling establishment.

“It is deeply unfortunate as this latest instance appears to be a clear cut case of vendetta, coming within weeks of a documentary aired by the BBC on the Gujarat riots,” the statement said.

” We appeal to the government to restrain its agencies from misusing their powers in order to intimidate the media and put curbs on the freedom of the Press.”

The Editors Guild of India has also expressed deep concern about the action of the tax authorities, and said there were similar raids on four other media outlets in 2021, after they carried negative coverage of the government.

Although the documentary was broadcast on television only in the UK, India’s government has attempted to block people sharing India: The Modi Question online, calling it “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage” with a “colonial mind-set”. Police in Delhi detained students as they gathered to watch the film at a showing in January.

The documentary focused on the prime minister’s role in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister of the state.

It highlights a previously unpublished report, obtained by the BBC from the UK Foreign Office, which raises questions about Mr Modi’s actions during the 2002 riots. The rioting began the day after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing dozens. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the subsequent violence.

“Climate of impunity”

The Foreign Office report claims that Mr Modi was “directly responsible” for the “climate of impunity” that enabled the violence.

But Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman from Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, described the BBC as the “most corrupt organisation in the world”.

“India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation,” he said, “as long as you don’t spew venom.”

He added the searches by the tax authorities were lawful and the timing had nothing to do with the government.

Mr Modi has long rejected accusations against him, and a Supreme Court panel in 2013 said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.

After the raids, the Indian finance ministry accused the BBC of tax evasion, saying that it had not fully declared income and profits from operations in the country. “The department gathered several evidences pertaining to the operation of the organisation which indicate that tax has not been paid on certain remittances which have not been disclosed as income in India by the foreign entities of the group,” it said.