I-T Department 'Surveys' at BBC's India Offices Continued Overnight, Still Ongoing

The BBC asked all its employees except the broadcast department to work from home on Wednesday.

New Delhi: The Income Tax Department’s ‘surveys’ at the British Broadcasting Corporation’s offices in India – in Delhi and Mumbai – continued all night and are still going. This action comes weeks after the BBC, the public broadcaster of the United Kingdom, released a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots titled ‘India: The Modi Question’.

A survey, conducted under Section 133A of the I-T Act, is usually a precursor to a search and seizure operation, according to the Indian Express.

According to NDTV, the BBC asked all its employees except the broadcast department to work from home on Wednesday. “Employees can refrain from answering questions on personal income if asked so. They should answer other salary-related queries,” the BBC said in an internal email to employees, adding that staffers should cooperate and “answer questions comprehensively”.

In a statement on Tuesday, BBC had said that it was cooperating with the tax officials and hoped that the matter would be resolved quickly.

While the UK has not officially made a statement on the move, the US State Department said it supports freedom of the press but is “not in a position to offer judgement”. “We support the importance of free press around the world. We continue to highlight the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief as human rights that contribute to strengthening democracies around the world. It has strengthened this democracy here in this country. It has strengthened India’s democracy,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Also read: Tax ‘Survey’ on BBC: The Modi Government Is Behaving Exactly Like Indira Gandhi During the Emergency

I-T Department sources have told the media that the ‘survey’ concerns allegations of international taxation and transfer pricing irregularities involving the BBC. During the survey on Tuesday, officials reportedly searched the word ‘tax’ on computers after asking employees to log into them.

Opposition political parties, media and journalists’ bodies, and civil society groups have condemned the I-T Department’s action, and said that it appears to be direct retaliatory action against the BBC for its documentary that was critical of the prime minister. “It is deeply unfortunate as this latest instance appears to be a clear cut case of vendetta, coming within weeks of a documentary aired by the BBC on the Gujarat riots,” said the Press Club of India, for instance.

The Union government had blocked the documentary on YouTube and Twitter. The external affairs ministry had called it “propagandist agenda,” to which the BBC said the documentary “was rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards.”