BBC tax raids shine mild on Indian media freedom underneath Modi, some journalists say By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Law enforcement officials stand exterior a constructing having BBC workplaces, the place earnings tax officers are conducting a search, in New Delhi, India, February 14, 2023. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

By Krishn Kaushik, Devjyot Ghoshal, Saurabh Sharma and Aditya Kalra

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At round 11 a.m. on Feb 14, some 20 Indian tax officers and police burst into the BBC’s workplaces in New Delhi, shouting at employees to step away from their computer systems and hand over their cell phones, based on two individuals current.

On the firm’s bureau in India’s monetary capital, Mumbai, tax officers launched a second raid. The federal government stated the BBC had failed to reply to repeated requests to make clear its tax affairs associated to the income and remittances from its Indian operations.

The BBC has stated it’s cooperating totally with tax authorities and hopes to resolve issues rapidly, including its journalists would proceed to report “with out worry or favour”. It declined to remark for this story.

Three weeks earlier than the raids – which the federal government known as a “survey” – the BBC launched a two-part documentary that included an examination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s function in sectarian riots in his dwelling state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister there. The documentary, which was solely broadcast in Britain, accused Modi of fostering a local weather of impunity that fuelled the violence.

Modi’s authorities has known as the documentary “biased” and reflecting a “colonial mindset”. Overseas Minister S. Jaishankar informed the ANI information company final week it was “politics by one other means” and recommended its timing was meant to undermine assist for Modi. The BBC has stated it stands by the reporting.

The 72-year-old prime minister enjoys excessive approval scores and is anticipated to run for reelection subsequent yr for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP).

In late January, Indian authorities ordered the removing of social media posts sharing the documentary and police detained some Indian college students who tried to display it, saying it might disturb the peace. They have been launched shortly afterwards.

The tax inspections on the BBC’s workplaces – throughout which officers cloned the cell phones of some senior employees and searched computer systems, based on the 2 individuals current – have highlighted the considerations of some journalists and media rights watchdogs about what they are saying is a decline in press freedom underneath Modi.

Reuters spoke to eight Indian journalists, business executives and media analysts who stated that some media which reported critically on the federal government have been focused with inspections by authorities companies, the suspension of state promoting, and the arrest of reporters.

“There’s by no means been a golden age of Indian journalism,” stated Abhinandan Sekhri, chief govt of impartial on-line media group, Newslaundry, whose workplaces in New Delhi have been surveyed twice by tax officers in 2021 after crucial protection of Modi’s administration. “However it has by no means been like it’s now.”

A legal case filed by the tax division towards Sekhri alleging tax evasion and forging a valuation report was thrown out by a choose in Delhi in November. Sekhri has sued the federal government for assaults on his basic rights and freedom of expression; the case is being heard within the Delhi Excessive courtroom.

Modi’s authorities has vigorously denied the BBC tax inspection – the primary towards a world information organisation in a long time – was a response to the movie.

“The BBC operates underneath two personal firms in India: like some other international firm, they’re open to scrutiny and tax legal guidelines apply to them,” stated Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser to the Ministry of Data and Broadcasting. The BBC had obtained greater than 10 tax notices earlier than the documentary aired, he stated.

Reuters was unable to substantiate this independently. The tax company didn’t reply to request for remark for this story.

Since Modi took workplace in 2014, India has slid from a hundred and fortieth in World Press Freedom Index, an annual rating by non-profit Reporters With out Borders, to a hundred and fiftieth place final yr, its lowest ever.

Modi’s authorities rejects the Index’s findings, questioning its methodology, and says India has a vibrant free press.

The world’s most populous democracy with 1.4 billion individuals, India has 1000’s of newspapers and a whole lot of TV information channels.

Gupta, the advisor to the data ministry, denied any authorities company had focused the media in response to protection, or suspended any promoting. He stated the federal government had acknowledged repeatedly that harassment of journalists was unacceptable and towards the legislation.


The Editors Guild of India, an business affiliation, stated the BBC raids have been a part of a development of “authorities companies getting used to intimidate and harass information organisations.” It cited 4 related tax inspections towards media in 2021.

In a kind of, the workplaces of Dainik Bhaskar, one among India’s largest newspapers by circulation, have been raided in July2021 by tax authorities, who alleged it evaded taxes on earnings value 7 billion Indian rupees ($84.47 million). The paper has contested the cost and the case is ongoing.

The newspaper – a part of DB Corp, one among India’s largest newspaper teams – had printed a sequence of articles alleging authorities mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic and underreported deaths. The federal government has denied errors in its response and undercounting.

A senior Dainik Bhaskar govt, who requested to not be recognized due to the sensitivity of the problem, stated the raids adopted an unexplained halt in promoting by the federal authorities and 6 BJP-controlled states from February 2021. The suspension lasted till August 2022 and price the newspaper greater than 1 billion rupees ($12.25 million), he stated.

A spokesman for the newspaper declined to remark. The state governments didn’t reply to requests for remark. Requested in regards to the case, Gupta, the senior advisor on the Ministry of Data and Broadcasting, stated the federal government didn’t pull promoting due to crucial reporting.

In a report final yr, Reporters With out Borders stated that, regardless of excessive readership, many Indian information organisations have been weak to financial stress due to their reliance on authorities promoting.

The acquisition of some media teams by billionaires seen as near Modi has additionally led to the silencing of impartial voices within the Indian press, it stated.

Between 2014 and early December 2022, the federal authorities spent 64.9 billion Indian rupees ($784.34 million) on promoting in print and digital media, it stated in an announcement to parliament on the finish of final yr. Nonetheless, the figures confirmed spending has declined in recent times.

Gupta stated there had been complaints after the federal government diminished its promoting spending however that was not an assault on media freedom.

“Authorities does not exist to fund media. We do not desire a media which is loyal to us or beholden to us due to the cash that we give them,” he stated.


Stories from worldwide press freedom watchdogs, together with the Committee to Shield Journalists (CPJ), say that – along with the monetary pressures on media organizations – the federal and state governments in India have detained an rising variety of journalists for his or her reporting.

At the least seven journalists remained behind bars in India as of December, the best quantity in 30 years, based on the CPJ’s annual international tracker launched on Dec 14.

In some situations, reporters have been detained by state governments – which management native police forces – after reporting on minor points.

On March 29, 2022, Ajeet Ojha, a reporter with the Hindi-language newspaper Amar Ujala within the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, wrote a narrative about highschool examination check papers being leaked to college students prematurely within the city of Balia. Ojha wrote that an investigation into who leaked the papers was ongoing.

The subsequent day, the 42-year-old reporter was arrested by police and accused of leaking the check papers himself, based on the police report, reviewed by Reuters.

“I spent 27 nights in jail,” Ojha stated, including that he’s nonetheless accused on two counts, although police dropped some legal costs. Balia police didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Gyanendra Shukla, a veteran reporter who led the marketing campaign for Ojha’s launch, stated the BJP-controlled state authorities seen “critics as an enemy”.

“They’ve forgotten that the work of a journalist is to focus on issues and criticise the system,” he stated.

The Uttar Pradesh authorities didn’t reply to requests for remark. Gupta, the ministry advisor, stated the arrest was a matter for the state authorities.