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Indian Tax Department Searches BBC Offices For 2nd Straight Day

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(CTN NEWS) – NEW DELHI – According to some employees, tax inspectors in India conducted a second day of office searches and questioned staff about the BBC’s commercial activities in the nation on Wednesday.

After they could leave the office on Tuesday night, BBC management instructed editorial and other employees to work from home, according to colleagues who spoke on the condition of confidentiality as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The searches were conducted a few weeks after the BBC in the UK aired a program that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Investigators searched several employees’ PCs despite earlier instructions not to use their phones and to set them aside, according to staff members, who said there was no overnight break in the investigation.

Private security guards close the gate of a building housing the BBC office in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Since the searches were started at the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday morning, Indian income tax officials have not released any statements.

According to the Press Trust of India news agency, the officials were reportedly creating copies of the organization’s financial data on paper and in electronic form.

Rights organizations and opposition parties criticized the Income Tax Department of India’s action as an attempt to intimidate the media.

The national broadcaster of Britain, which is publicly funded, stated that it cooperated with law enforcement and intended “to have this problem handled as soon as possible.” The BBC said employees were still present at the two locations late in the evening.

It added: “Our output and journalism continue as normal. Many staff members have left the building, but some have been asked to stay and continue to comply with the ongoing inquiries.”

Media personnel report standing outside a building housing BBC office in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

We are aware of the search of the BBC headquarters in Delhi by Indian tax authorities, according to U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday. However, the British government has not yet issued a statement.

“We believe that a free press should exist everywhere. We never stop emphasizing the value of freedom of speech and freedom of religion or belief as fundamental human rights that support and build democracies all around the world.

This country’s democracy has been strengthened as a result. India’s democracy has grown stronger as a result; Price told reporters in Washington.

The income tax “surveys” conducted at the BBC offices drew criticism from India’s News Broadcasters and Digital Association.

The group stated that while it “maintains that no institution is above the law, it opposes any attempt to gag and intimidate the media and interfere with the free functioning of journalists and media organizations.”

India: The Modi Question

According to Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the BBC shouldn’t be concerned as long as it abides by Indian law.

Without providing further details, he stated that the broadcaster’s history is “tainted” and “full of hatred” towards India and corrupt.

Last month, the documentary “India: The Modi Question” was aired in the U.K. It focused on the prime minister’s involvement in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, a western state, in 2002 while he was Gujarat’s chief minister.

In the fighting, more than 1,000 people died.

The Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Modi, despite his denials of claims that the authorities acting under his watch permitted and even encouraged the violence.

The court dismissed a Muslim victim’s appeal challenging Modi’s dismissal last year.

The BBC website states that the second part of the two-part program “examined the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019.”

An armed security person stands stand guard at the gate of a building housing BBC office in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

The program immediately garnered criticism from the Indian government, which used emergency powers granted to it by the country’s information technology laws to prevent it from being broadcast there.

Local law enforcement rushed to halt planned screenings at Indian institutions, while social media sites like Twitter and YouTube agreed with orders from the government to take down links to the video.

The documentary, according to the BBC at the time, was “rigorously researched” and featured a variety of viewpoints.

The Indian Government was allowed to respond to the issues brought up in the series, but it declined, according to the statement.

According to India’s Foreign Ministry, the documentary was an unobjective “propaganda work aimed to sell a particularly discredited narrative.”

In recent years, there has been a continuous deterioration in press freedom in India. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 Press Freedom Index, the nation dropped eight spots to position 150 out of 180.

Private security guards stand outside a building housing BBC office, in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Media watchdog organizations claim that the Modi administration has silenced social media criticism by a broad internet law that places Twitter and Facebook directly under the executive branch’s control.

Tax searches have been carried out on a few media outlets that criticize the administration.

On the same day in 2021, police raided the offices of the left-leaning website NewsClick and the independent media outlet Newslaundry

In 2021, tax authorities also charged the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper with tax evasion after it ran articles on mass funeral pyres and floating corpses that questioned how the government handled the COVID-19 outbreak.

When it conducted a raid on the premises of New Delhi Television, a channel noted for its liberal slant, in 2017, the government’s investigation department claimed to be looking into cases of loan defaults.

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Alishba Waris is an independent journalist working for CTN News. She brings a wealth of experience and a keen eye for detail to her reporting. With a knack for uncovering the truth, Waris isn't afraid to ask tough questions and hold those in power accountable. Her writing is clear, concise, and cuts through the noise, delivering the facts readers need to stay informed. Waris's dedication to ethical journalism shines through in her hard-hitting yet fair coverage of important issues.

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