Indian Officials Raid BBC Offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday, over a documentary that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The move has been criticized by rights groups and opposition politicians who claim that it is an attempt to intimidate the media.
According to the Press Trust of India news agency, the tax department was looking at documents related to the BBC’s business operations and its Indian arm. The Editors Guild of India called the move “undemocratic” and said that it is part of a trend of using government agencies to harass press organizations that are critical of government policies.
The documentary in question, “India: The Modi Question,” was broadcast in the U.K. last month and examined the prime minister’s role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat killing thousands of Muslims. Modi, who was chief minister of the state at the time, has denied allegations that authorities under his watch allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed. The program also examined the track record of Narendra Modi’s government following his re-election in 2019.
The move to search the BBC’s offices follows India’s government invoking emergency powers to block the documentary from being shown in the country, alleging that it was a “propaganda piece” that lacked objectivity. The documentary drew widespread criticism from Modi’s party and Hindu right-wing nationalists, who petitioned the Supreme Court for a complete ban on the BBC.
Critics have called the ban an assault on press freedom, and human rights groups have accused the Modi government of cracking down on minorities and silencing criticism on social media. In recent years, India’s Muslim minority has been the target of violence from Hindu nationalists.
This is not the first time that the Indian government has searched media outlets critical of the government. In 2021, tax officials searched the offices of the left-leaning website NewsClick and independent media portal Newslaundry on the same day. Tax officials also accused the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper of tax evasion in 2021 after it published reports of mass funeral pyres and floating corpses that challenged the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2017, the government’s investigation bureau said it was probing cases of loan defaults when it raided the offices of New Delhi Television, known for its liberal slant.
India’s Press Freedom Index has been declining in recent years, with the country falling eight places to 150 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Reporters Without Borders Index. The Modi government has been accused of using draconian laws to muzzle criticism and of silencing dissenting voices on social media.
The BBC has said that it is cooperating fully with the authorities and hopes to have the situation resolved as soon as possible. However, critics have called the investigation “an assault on press freedom” and “an attempt to intimidate the media.”