Modi Documentary Fallout: Govt Launches Income Tax 'Survey' at BBC Offices in India

The move comes weeks after the BBC, the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom, released a documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

New Delhi: Officials of the Income Tax department have been conducting ‘surveys’ at the offices of the news outlet, British Broadcasting Corporation, across its offices in India – at Mumbai and New Delhi – since 11:20 am today, February 14.

The BBC said on Twitter that it is cooperating with officials and it hopes to “have this situation resolved as soon as possible”.

The I-T department ‘survey’ concerns allegations of international taxation and transfer pricing irregularities involving the BBC, NDTV has reported, citing sources.

Those at the office are not allowed to speak to anyone outside during the survey, and the offices will remain sealed while the officials are there, an I-T department source said.

A BBC staffer confirmed to The Wire that all phones were off in the New Delhi office. The staffer said they had been unable to reach anyone since morning.

The move 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.’

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.”

The survey comes on a day when news agency ANI has released tweets on an interview with Union home minister Amit Shah. In the interview, Shah addresses the BBC documentary. “The truth emerges despite a thousand conspiracies around it. They are after Modi since 2002. But every time, Modi ji comes out stronger and more popular,” he is quoted as having said.

Opposition parties have criticised this state action against the British channel.

The Congress has tweeted that these ‘surveys’ amount to an “undeclared emergency.”

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra also tweeted about the move, who said sarcastically that Gautam Adani would still be getting special treatment for the authorities.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh too asked why the allegations against Adani were going ignored, while the government focused on BBC.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury questioned how India can claim to be the “mother of democracy”, given the government action.

BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia address the media while the survey was ongoing, calling the BBC the “Bhrasht Bhakwaas Corporation (corrupt, rubbish corporation)”. “Income Tax Department must be allowed to do its work,” Bhatia said, adding that “if BBC did no wrong, then why are [they] scared”.

Bhatia also made it clear that the I-T department action is, in fact, linked to the recent documentary. “The BBC indulges in anti-India propaganda,” Bhatia told reporters. “India is a country which gives an opportunity to every organisation… as long as you don’t spew venom.”

He also criticised the Congress for questioning the survey. The party “should remember former prime minister Indira Gandhi had banned BBC”, he said.

In a statement, the Editors Guild of India said this action is a “continuation of a trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment”. “This is a trend that undermines constitutional democracy,” the statement continues.

The action comes a fortnight before the G-20 Foreign Ministers meeting is scheduled to be held in Delhi from March 1 to 2.

India’s Press Freedom rankings (according to Reporters Without Borders) have fallen to 150 out of of 180, with India now in the 30 worst countries in the world surveyed.

A New York Times editorial from a day ago addressed the fact that India’s free press is increasingly at risk. “Since Mr. Modi took office in 2014, journalists have increasingly risked their careers, and their lives, to report what the government doesn’t want them to,” it noted.

Note: This is a breaking news story. Details will be added as and when they emerge.