Indian Tax Officials Raid BBC Offices After Critical Modi Documentary—Prompting Concerns For Press Freedom


Officials from India’s Income Tax department raided BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices on Tuesday to examine alleged “irregularities,” just weeks after the British public broadcaster aired a documentary highlighting the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in 2002 riots targeting Muslims in his home state of Gujarat.

Key Facts

Tax officials told various Indian news outlets that they were carrying out a “survey” of the BBC’s offices in response to allegations of irregularities in international taxation.

A journalist from BBC’s New Delhi office who requested anonymity told Forbes that the authorities had taken possession of phones and laptops belonging to journalists who were inside the office.

BBC staff who weren’t in the office during the raid have been asked by the company to stay at home.

In a statement, the broadcaster said it was “fully cooperating” with the investigation and expressed hope that the situation would be “resolved as soon as possible.”

Although income tax officials haven’t mentioned any link between the raid and BBC’s documentary—clips of which have been banned from online platforms in India—Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party directly criticized the BBC.

In a press conference, BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia labeled BBC as a “corrupt” organization without offering any details and alleged that the broadcaster’s work has “historically been tainted with its hatred for India.”

Chief Critic

The opposition Congress party referred to the raid as an “undeclared emergency,” with its president Mallikarjun Kharge tweeting: “Time and again, there has been an assault on freedom of Press [sic] under Modi Govt. This is done with brazen & unapologetic vengeance to strangulate remotely critical voices. No Democracy can survive if institutions are used to attack Opposition & Media. People WILL resist this.”

Key Background

Tuesday’s raids come just weeks after the BBC aired a two-part documentary about Modi and his role in the 2002 religious riots in the state of Gujarat. Modi—who was the chief minister of Gujarat at the time—and his government have been accused of enabling the violence that resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Although the documentary was not aired in India, Modi’s government and its supporters have reacted to it with fury, accusing the BBC of spreading “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage” while engaging in a “colonial mindset.” The government has leveraged emergency powers to ban clips of the documentary from being shared online. However, last week, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a plea seeking a “complete ban” on the documentary. Students at several college campuses across the country have also been targeted by law enforcement for organizing screenings of the documentary. In 2013, the prime minister was cleared by Indian courts on charges that he had enabled or supported the riots.

Big Number

150. That is India’s current ranking among 180 nations on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index for 2022. The index notes that the Indian press used to be viewed as “fairly progressive” before Modi came to power. “Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media,” the report adds.

Further Reading

BBC India offices searched by income tax officials (BBC)

Income Tax department conducts ‘survey’ at BBC offices in Delhi, Mumbai (Hindustan Times)

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