BBC offices in Delhi and Mumbai were raided by the Income Tax Department on the 14th of February, which continued for 3 whole days and ending on the 16th of February. According to BBC, journalists during the survey were not allowed to work several hours and as a result, their work got hampered. BBC Hindi had even reported that officials had misbehaved with the reporters and even were prohibited from writing about the ongoing raid. The Income tax department, however, has contested this statement by saying that the operation had been conducted by them in a manner which would still facilitate the day-to-day work that the journalists had to do.
A raid on the offices had been commenced by the Income Tax Department after the Ministry of Finances accused the Indian offices of the BBC of tax evasion.
Why did this raid on the BBC offices take place?
The raid took place just weeks after the rather controversial documentary on PM Narendra Modi was released.
Though the government was successful in banning the release of this documentary in India using multiple emergency laws, the documentary had a worldwide release which went against the likes of the Government of India.
The documentary focuses mainly on the Gujarat riots of 2002 and the role Narendra Modi, the then chief minister played in the Hindu-Muslim riots, which ripped apart the state and resulted in the death of about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
For years, allegations surrounding Modi’s negative influence on these riots have been piling up. This documentary had also revealed a British government document that held Modi directly responsible for the riots and not prohibiting the killing of innocent Muslims and even stated that the riots had ‘all the hallmarks of genocide’.
Students protested the banning of this documentary, and especially the curbing of free speech, by screening the documentary across universities, which led to many being detained by the police.
This is the first time that the Indian government has targeted an international media organisation. However, this is not the first time that the Modi government has intentionally curbed media that has tried to criticise the BJP government. Many Indian journalists and news organisations have faced intense harassment and scrutiny in the process of publishing such works since the BJP government came into power in 2014.
Even at the start and during the pandemic, many efforts were made by the government to shun the journalists and media outlets from reporting the urgency and the extent of the virus, thus curbing the freedom of speech in even such dire situations where the people needed to know the graveness of the situation. Events like this lead to India dropping down 10 places, securing the 150th ranking out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, the lowest ranking India has ever gotten.
According to the Editor’s Guild of India, this event marks the continuation of the trend of the government using the tools at their disposal to intimidate and eventually shun the press from publishing or criticising the current government or its policies. According to many journalists across the country, this is a pattern of silencing and creating a pseudo ‘echo-chamber’ that has been omnipresent since the inception of the BJP government at the center.
As a result, the media landscape of India mostly consists of cheerleaders of the government who have a singular point of view or of journalists who live in fear of being prosecuted for expressing their opinions. Even local vernacular presses have not been spared from the scrutiny of the central government.
The one by-product of this raid is that the unfair handling of the press by the central government has been brought to the purview of the world. Thus, now international publications like The Guardian and The New York Times are also speaking against the government for the unfair manner in which journalists and media organisations are handled in this country.