NEW DELHI – As the raid on the Delhi and Mumbai offices of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) by the Income Tax Department continues, the Narendra Modi government has been continuously receiving criticism from international media organizations, describing the government action as a crackdown on press freedom in India.
The Income Tax authorities made it clear that they are conducting surveys on the BBC with regard to the investigation into the tax evasion. However, the “survey” is facing a lot of criticism as it came soon after the United Kingdom-based media house aired a documentary on 2002 Gujarat Pogrom highlighting the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in fanning the riots.
In an article titled “How the Indian Government Uses Raids to Silence Critics”, Global magazine The Time pointed out that it’s not just the BBC which is being raided but there are other Indian media organizations who faced similar crackdowns because they often carry reports critical to the present Indian regime.
“In recent years, similar raids have targeted journalists, think tanks, and civil society organizations critical of the Indian government, in what rights groups say is part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s growing crackdown on dissent. It includes critics being charged with criminal cases under India’s opaque terrorism and sedition laws, and allegations of financial misconduct and improper foreign funding that have been used to freeze bank accounts,” Astha Rajvanshi wrote in her article.
The article highlighted the names of think tanks and media groups which have been raided by the government agencies so far. These organizations who have faced the wrath of governmental agencies include Oxfam India, the Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation, the Center for Policy Research, Newsclick, Newslaundary, Dainik Bhashkar, Bharat Samachar and Amnesty International.
The Time’s article also drew attention towards dropping rank of India in the World Press Freedom Index. India was placed at the 150th position by Reporters without Border out of 180 in 2022.
In a report titled “Indian tax agents raid BBC offices after airing a documentary critical of Modi”, the New York Times (NYT) linked the raids to the BBC documentary and described government actions as “retaliatory”.
“In witnessing just how far the government had gone in its efforts to block the documentary’s dissemination since its release late last month, and in observing attacks on the BBC on nightly news shows, many saw signs that the broadcaster would face some sort of retaliatory action,” said the report.
The US-based international media also pointed to the approach of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with regard to the criticism.
“The ruling party’s increasingly thin-skinned response to criticism is in stark contrast with India’s rising stature as an emerging power, with Mr. Modi frequently touting the South Asian giant’s democratic credentials on the global stage,” said the NYT report.
The Guardian also pointed out that the BBC is facing the actions due to its critical documentary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The BBC has been under increased scrutiny since the furore over the documentary, including a petition to the supreme court to have the broadcaster banned in India, which was dismissed by the judges,” said the Guardian report headlined as “BBC offices in India raided by tax officials amid Modi documentary fallout”.
The report said “there has been an increasingly pressured environment for the media since Modi came to power in 2014. Journalists and news organizations that have published work critical of the BJP government have faced harassment, raids, criminal cases and tax investigations, and India has dropped to 150 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index”.