(CTN NEWS) – NEW DELHI – A few weeks after airing a contentious documentary against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, officials from India’s Income Tax Department raided the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, according to the British broadcaster.
The BBC claimed to be completely collaborating. It said, “We aim to rectify this matter as quickly as possible.”
The Press Trust of India news agency said, citing unnamed sources, that teams from the tax department are looking at records about the BBC’s corporate operations and its Indian affiliate.
The Indian tax authorities chose not to respond.
The action was criticized by rights organizations and politicians from the opposition as an attempt to intimidate the media.
The Editors Guild of India said in a statement that the search “continues a history of employing government institutions to intimidate and harass journalistic organizations that are critical of government policies or the governing establishment.”
K.C. Venugopal, the general secretary of the opposition Congress party, tweeted that the investigation is “undemocratic,” “reeks of desperation, and demonstrates that the Modi government is afraid of criticism.” “We strongly reject these forms of intimidation.”
According to Gaurav Bhatia, a spokesman for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the BBC shouldn’t be concerned if it abides by Indian law.
Without providing further details, he said that the BBC’s past is “tainted” and “full of hatred” for India and that the network is crooked.
India: The Modi Question, a program that the BBC aired in the U.K. this month, looked at Modi’s involvement in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, where he was the state’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.
According to the BBC website’s description of the show, the second half of the two-part series looked at “the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019.”
The government immediately reacted negatively to the program and used emergency powers under its information technology laws to shut it down.
Local law enforcement rushed to halt scheduled screenings at several institutions in India, while social media sites like Twitter and YouTube agreed with official orders to take down links to the video.
The prohibition was denounced by critics and political opponents as an attack on India’s journalistic freedom.
According to a statement from the BBC at the time, the documentary was “rigorously researched” and featured a variety of perspectives and viewpoints.
The statement stated, “We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters presented in the series But it declined to reply.”
According to India’s Foreign Ministry, the documentary lacked objectivity and was “intended to sell a particularly discredited narrative.”
Many lawmakers from Modi’s party denounced the program as a violation of India’s sovereignty. Hindu right-wing extremists petitioned the Supreme Court last week to outlaw the BBC completely.
The court rejected their argument, describing it as “completely meritless.”
Earlier, Human Rights Watch claimed that the documentary’s prohibition was a sign of a larger campaign against minorities being carried out by the Modi administration, which the rights organisation claimed routinely used harsh legislation to silence dissent.
Hindu nationalists have been using violence against India’s Muslim minority in recent years, encouraged by a prime minister who has done little about such attacks since his election in 2014.
In recent years, press freedom in India has steadily decreased. The nation dropped eight spots to 150th rank out of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 Press Freedom Index.
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 conducted on several media sources critical of the administration.
On the same day in 2021, police searched the offices of the left-leaning website NewsClick and the independent media outlet Newslaundry.
Tax authorities also charged the Dainik Bhaskar daily with tax evasion in 2021 after it dissented from the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by publishing stories about mass funeral pyres and floating corpses.
When the government’s investigation department raided the headquarters of New Delhi Television, noted for its liberal tilt, in 2017, it claimed that it was looking into loan defaults.
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