Government using its agencies to harass, intimidate media outlets: Editors Guild on IT surveys at BBC offices
The Editors Guild of India, Tuesday, slammed the tax surveys at the British Broadcasting Corporation’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai, terming the action as the continuation of the ‘trend’ of the government using its agencies to ‘intimidate and harass” media outlets who are critical of their regime or its policies.
In a statement, the Guild expressed “deep concern” over the development and asked that great care and sensitivity must be displayed in such investigations to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations.
The Guild noted that Income Tax department’s action came within weeks after the release of the controversial two-part documentary by the BBC questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and the also the current situation of minorities in India.
The Guild in its statement said that the documentary stirred political waters, with the government criticising the BBC for wrong and prejudiced reportage on the Gujarat violence and attempting to ban online access and viewing of the films in India.
The Guild recalled that IT surveys were conducted in 2021 at the offices of NewsClick, Newslaundry, Dainik Bhaskar, and Bharat Samachar and each of those cases “the raids and surveys were against the backdrop of critical coverage of the government establishment by the news organisations.”
The Guild cautioned that this is a dangerous trend that undermines constitutional democracy and also reiterated its earlier demand that governments ensure that such investigations are conducted within the prescribed rules and that they don’t degenerate into instruments of harassment to intimidate independent media.
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The Guild’s statement comes hours after sleuths from the Income Tax (IT) Department carried out survey exercises at the Delhi and Mumbai offices of UK national broadcaster BBC.
Reports quoting sources said a team of 15 officials from the IT department swooped down on BBC’s Mumbai and Delhi offices and conducted survey operations over allegations related to of International Taxation and Transfer Pricing irregularities.
According to reports, the IT department scrutinized documents related to the broadcaster’s day-to-day business operations of the company and those related to its Indian arm.
In an official release, the Income Tax Department clarified that these exercises are classified as surveys and not raids as earlier reports had suggested, adding that as part of a survey, the department only covers the business premises of a company and does not raid residences and other locations of its promoters or directors.
Earlier, reports said that the IT department sleuths seized the mobile phones of the BBC employees in the morning and asked them to go home, while employees scheduled for afternoon shift at BBC’s Delhi office were told to work from home.
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