As Income Tax department’s raids at the office of BBC in India’s national capital, New Delhi, continued for the third straight day, the exercise raised concerns among Indian and South Asian journalists.
Officers told the media that the ‘surveys’ would continue for some more time. “Exact time frame to call the operation closed rests entirely on the teams on the ground”, an officer said. According to officials, the survey is being conducted to investigate issues concerning international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies.
Meanwhile, journalists in India and South Asia raised concerns that these exercises look like political vendetta in response to the controversial BBC documentary that had portrayed the Indian Prime Minister in a negative light.
In a statement released by the Editors Guild of India on Tuesday, the organization said they are “deeply concerned” about the IT surveys. “The survey by the I-T department is in continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organizations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment,” the Guild said in the statement. A piece published in Bangladesh-based Daily Star said “whatever official narrative is given, there’s no doubt that this latest episode will be seen as a dangerous attack on press freedom and a slide into authoritarianism.”
The attack on the public broadcaster with its headquarters in London has been condemned by opposition parties as a “political vengeance.” The opposition questioned the timing of the action, which came weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots entitled “India: The Modi Question.” The BBC was accused of “venomous reporting” by the ruling BJP.
Officials at the BBC office made copies of the news organization’s computer and paper records while also collecting financial information from a small number of staff members. According to tax officials, the survey teams are copying data from electronic devices as part of their work of gathering evidence and are looking for answers on financial transactions, the corporate structure, and other details concerning the news firm.
Following the contentious programme, a petition asking for a blanket ban on the BBC in India was rejected by the Supreme Court last week. The court referred to the motion as “entirely misconceived” and “absolutely meritless.” The government has issued orders to remove numerous YouTube videos and Twitter posts that contained links to the documentary on January 21.
Although the Income Tax Agency has not released an official comment regarding the incident, the BBC has stated that it is working with law enforcement.