BBC raids present India’s shrinking media freedom underneath Modi, some journalists say – World

At round 11am on February 14, some 20 Indian tax officers and police burst into the BBC’s offices in New Delhi, shouting at employees to step away from their computer systems and hand over their cell phones, in response to two individuals current.

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

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

Three weeks earlier than the raids — which the federal government referred to 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 house 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.

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

The 72-year-old prime minister enjoys excessive approval scores and is predicted to run for reelection subsequent yr for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Social gathering (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 screen it, saying it might disturb the peace. They have been launched shortly afterwards.

The tax inspections on the BBC’s places of work — throughout which officers cloned the cell phones of some senior employees and searched computer systems, in response to 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, trade executives and media analysts who mentioned 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,” mentioned Abhinandan Sekhri, chief government of impartial on-line media group, Newslaundry, whose places of work in New Delhi have been surveyed twice by tax officers in 2021 after vital protection of Modi’s administration. “However it has by no means been like it’s now.”

A prison case filed by the tax division in opposition to Sekhri alleging tax evasion and forging a valuation report was thrown out by a decide 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 in opposition to a world information organisation in a long time — was a response to the movie.

“The BBC operates underneath two non-public firms in India: like another overseas firm, they’re open to scrutiny and tax legal guidelines apply to them,” mentioned Kanchan Gupta, senior adviser to the Ministry of Info and Broadcasting. The BBC had acquired greater than 10 tax notices earlier than the documentary aired, he mentioned.

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

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Since Modi took workplace in 2014, India has slid from one hundred and fortieth in World Press Freedom Index, an annual rating by non-profit Reporters With out Borders, to one 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 bunch of TV information channels.

Gupta denied any authorities company had focused the media in response to protection or suspended any promoting. He mentioned the federal government had said repeatedly that harassment of journalists was unacceptable and in opposition to the legislation.

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