BBC survey: Global media points to ‘signs of retaliatory action’, ‘baseless claim by pro-govt outlets’

In reports on the tax survey, prominent global media outlets turned their gaze to the controversial Modi documentary.

WrittenBy:Aban Usmani
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In reports on the tax survey on the BBC offices in India, global media outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Le Monde and Guardian noted that this comes after the blocking of the controversial BBC documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

In a note shared with the media, the Indian government had suggested that the survey is linked to alleged violation of transfer pricing rules and diversion of profit. However, international media reports seemed to focus on the documentary ban, the 2002 Gujarat riots, the new "evidence" in the BBC film, the crackdown on dissent in India, and an alleged build-up before the tax survey on BBC. They also pointed out that media outlets, international rights groups and foreign charities have often found themselves subjected to scrutiny by India's tax authorities and financial crimes investigators under the Modi government. 

In a report on its fifth page, The New York Times noted that “many saw signs that the broadcaster would face some sort of retaliatory action”, “in witnessing just how far the government had gone in its efforts to block the documentary’s dissemination since its release late last month, and in observing attacks on the BBC on nightly news shows”.

Headlined “Indian tax agents raid BBC offices after airing of documentary critical of Modi”, the report stated, “The ruling party’s increasingly thin-skinned response to criticism is in stark contrast with India’s rising stature as an emerging power, with Mr. Modi frequently touting the South Asian giant’s democratic credentials on the global stage.”

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The Washington Post, meanwhile, pointed to the “baseless claim” circulated by pro-government outlets, including Republic TV, “that the British broadcaster is an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. (In China, the BBC is frequently criticized by government officials, and its journalists are occasionally assaulted by security forces.)”

Headlined “Indian government raids BBC offices in wake of documentary critical of Modi”, the report stated, “While Indian media outlets that have published reports drawing the government’s ire have often faced tax scrutiny, the BBC is the first international organization to be raided.”

The BBC also reported on the survey, saying that it comes “weeks after the broadcaster aired a documentary in the UK critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.

Headlined “BBC India offices searched by income tax officials”, the report noted that “the targeting of organisations seen as critical of the government is not uncommon in India. In 2020, Amnesty International was forced to halt its India operations, with the group accusing the government of pursuing a ‘witch-hunt’ against human rights organisations.” 

“Oxfam was also searched last year along with other local non-government organisations. The Editors Guild of India said tax authorities raided four other media outlets in 2021, after they carried negative coverage of the government. According to the non-profit group Reporters Without Borders press freedom has fallen since Mr Modi came to power,” read the BBC report.

The CNN noted that “the raids have raised fears of censorship in India”. 

In a report headlined “Indian authorities raid BBC offices after broadcast of Modi documentary”, the organisation reported that the move comes “weeks after the country banned a documentary from the British broadcaster that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in deadly riots more than 20 years ago”.

“The BBC said Jack Straw, who was British foreign secretary in 2002 and features in the documentary, claims that Modi had ‘played a proactive part in pulling back the police and in tacitly encouraging the Hindu extremists.’ Modi has denied accusations that he failed to stop the violence. A special investigation team appointed by India’s Supreme Court in 2012 found no evidence to suggest he was to blame. But the riots remain one of the darkest chapters in India’s post-independence history, with some victims still awaiting justice.”

“Last month, some university students in Delhi attempting to watch the banned film on campus were detained by police, raising concerns that freedoms were bring throttled under Modi’s government.”  

In a report headlined “BBC offices in India raided by tax officials amid Modi documentary fallout”, the Guardian noted that the “UK government has so far declined to comment on the raids, although a Foreign Office official said they had spoken to the BBC. The BBC has previously been reluctant to seek formal political support when it comes to such incidents in an attempt to make clear it is separate from the British state.”

“Modi has been followed for years by allegations of his complicity in the violence, and they led to him being banned from the US for almost a decade. The BBC documentary revealed that a British government document from the time had found Modi ‘directly responsible’ for not stopping the killings of Muslims during the riots, and said the violence had ‘all the hallmarks of genocide’,” stated the report.

“The series was not released in India but prompted an outcry from the Modi government, who accused the broadcaster of bias and a ‘colonial mindset’, pointing out that Modi was cleared of all charges by a supreme court panel in 2012. Emergency laws were invoked to ban any links or clips of the documentary being shared on social media. In defiance of the ban, students across the country staged screenings of the documentary at universities and several were detained by police.”

In the Asia section of the French media outlet Le Monde, the headline and strap of a report on the incident noted that the searches come weeks after the BBC documentary. The byline was shared with AFP.

“A BBC employee based in New Delhi told Agence France Presse that the tax raid was in progress and that officials were ‘confiscating all phones’. India's Income Tax Department could not be reached for comment by AFP.”

“Last month, the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary alleging that Hindu nationalist Modi ordered police to turn a blind eye to sectarian riots in Gujarat state, where he was premier at the time. The violence left at least 1,000 people dead, most of them minority Muslims.”

Meanwhile, an opinion piece by former Hindustan Times editor Bobby Ghosh in Bloomberg stated that "press freedoms in India have been under attack from the start of the Modi era in 2014. Until recently, the main targets for the intolerance of the government and the wrath of the ruling party were domestic media outlets – especially the local-language press."

"I got some glimpses of how this works in an ill-starred stint as editor of Hindustan Times, New Delhi’s leading English-language newspaper. Just two years in power, the Modi government was already demonstrating an intolerance of criticism that was familiar to me from my previous experiences as a foreign correspondent in the dictatorships of the Middle East. Stories deemed embarrassing to the government or the ruling party led routinely to minatory phone calls from ministers and bureaucrats: The threats ranged from the withholding of ads and the pursuit of punitive lawsuits to investigations into my personal finances and those of my family."

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