BBC tax raids put India press freedom in spotlight
Md Jubair: The recent BBC documentary raising troubling questions about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom has hit a nerve in Delhi. While India: The Modi Question was earlier banned and those who organised or attended screenings were rounded up, the Indian state has now gone after the British public broadcaster itself. Tax officials have raided the BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai over claims of “vast diversion of profits” as well as “manipulation”; computers of staffers have been searched while phones have also been confiscated. It is safe to assume that the raids have little to do with alleged tax improprieties, and more to do with the contents of the documentary. The opposition as well as press freedom advocates in India have cried foul, with the Congress dubbing the actions part of an “undeclared emergency”. The BBC, meanwhile, in a diffident response, said it was “fully co-operating” with the Indian authorities.
Such tactics by the Modi government are not new. In the past, those media outlets that have failed to toe the official line have also had unpleasant visits from the taxman; journalists have been arrested as well, particularly at the time of Covid-19, for questioning the government’s response to the pandemic. This highlights a troubling trend where either the media has to fall in line or pay the price. We in Pakistan are all too familiar with such authoritarian methods to tame the media. However, India’s claims of being a democratic state are seriously dented through such moves. Unfortunately, hungry for state advertising, many outlets have yielded to pressure. The result has been an editorial line that rabidly promotes Hindutva, casts aspersions on Indian Muslims’ patriotism, and paints Pakistan as the eternal enemy, while branding all criticism of the state as ‘anti-national’. The world community needs to condemn these steps towards muzzling the media, and support those in India working for a free press.