“We stand up for the BBC. We fund the BBC. We think the BBC World Service is vital. We want the BBC to have that editorial freedom.”
This is what a representative of the UK government when asked in the House of Commons about the IT surveys conducted in India on the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai. The question was asked by Jim Shannon of the Democratic Unionist Party and answered by David Rutley, a Conservative MP and the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.
Rutley said the BBC is “quite rightly operationally and editorially independent” from the UK government.
“It criticises us, it criticises the Labour party, and it has that freedom that we believe is so important,” he said. “That freedom is key, and we want to be able to communicate its importance to our friends across the world, including the government in India.”
Rutley also said the UK “regards India as an important international partner” and that “respect for the rule of law is an essential element of an effective democracy”. He said he “cannot comment on the allegations made by India’s Income Tax department”.
Shannon described the IT surveys as a “deliberate act of intimidation following the release of an unflattering documentary about the country’s leader”, pointing out that the Modi government had banned the documentary in India. He added that seven days after the raids, “there has been silence from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office”.
“No government statements have been issued, and it has taken an urgent question to encourage the government to condemn this blatant attack on press freedoms,” Shannon said. “Alarmingly, the raids happened hours after the government signed a trade deal with India…”
In response, Rutley reiterated the UK government’s “support for media freedom”.
The surveys began on Tuesday, February 14, when two dozen officials from the IT department arrived at BBC’s Delhi office at noon. The team reportedly cloned digital data from devices in the accounts section. Read Newslaundry’s reports and .
The documentary in question is Modi: The India Question. Slammed by the Indian government as “propaganda”, it analyses the rise of Modi and focuses on the role he played in the Gujarat riots. The government in India banned it and also cracked down on universities that attempted to hold screenings of the documentary on their premises. Check out .