UPDATE: The BBC has issued a fresh statement about the ongoing Indian income tax department searches of their offices in India.
A BBC spokesperson said: “The Income Tax Authorities remain at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Many staff have now left the building but some have been asked to remain and are continuing to cooperate with the ongoing enquiries. We are supporting our staff during this time and continue to hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible. Our output and journalism continues as normal and we are committed to serving our audiences in India.”
PREVIOUSLY: India’s income tax department is conducting searches of the BBC’s offices in the country’s capital New Delhi and in Mumbai. The raids may be connected to the BBC’s unfavorable reporting and have quickly raised issues of press freedom in the country.
Three BBC staffers informed Associated Press about the searches, the agency said.
A BBC spokesperson told Variety: “The Income Tax Authorities are currently at the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai and we are fully cooperating. We hope to have this situation resolved as soon as possible.”
The searches come in the wake of the Indian government blocking the controversial two-part BBC documentary “India: The Modi Question.” The documentary was described on the BBC website as: “Narendra Modi’s premiership has been dogged by persistent allegations about the attitude of his government towards India’s Muslim population. This series investigates the truth behind these allegations and examines Modi’s backstory to explore other questions about his politics when it comes to India’s largest religious minority.”
A government spokesperson had dismissed the documentary as a “propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative. The bias, the lack of objectivity, and frankly a continuing colonial mindset, is blatantly visible. If anything, this film or documentary is a reflection on the agency and individuals that are peddling this narrative again. It makes us wonder about the purpose of this exercise and the agenda behind it and frankly we do not wish to dignify such efforts.”
“The unprecedented actions taken by the IT Dept at the BBC’s Indian offices are highly questionable, raising concerns over media freedom. Infringement on press freedom is objectionable and can embarrass our nation on the international stage,” said Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, a state which opposes India’s federal government.
Similarly, the Editors Guild of India said: “EGI is deeply concerned about the IT ‘surveys’ being carried out at the offices of BBC India. Is distressed by the continuing trend of government agencies being used to intimidate and harass news organisations that are critical of ruling establishment.”
The BBC has stood by the documentary, saying: “The documentary series examines the tensions between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority and explores the politics of India’s PM Narendra Modi in relation to those tensions. This has been the source of considerable reporting and interest both in India and across the world in recent years.
The documentary was rigorously researched according to highest editorial standards. A wide range of voices, witnesses and experts were approached, and we have featured a range of opinions – this includes responses from people in the BJP [India’s ruling party]. We offered the Indian Government a right to reply to the matters raised in the series – it declined to respond.”
The Indian government used its emergency powers to block the documentary on social media but student groups across the country attempted to screen it.