After the just concluded three-day survey on BBC premises, the Income Tax Department has announced the discovery of tax discrepancies.
The IT Department had initiated the operation on February 15th. The computers and financial records at the BBC offices were examined for possible “deliberate non-compliance with Indian laws including transfer pricing rules and diversion of profits illegally.”
The IT department was specifically looking into the “manipulation of prices for unauthorised benefits, including tax advantages”, it said.
This surprise tax survey followed within weeks after the release of a controversial documentary by BBC titled India: The Modi Question, which covered the 2002 Gujarat riots and the situation of minorities in India. The documentary was blocked by the government on social media platforms.
While the ruling BJP has accused the BBC of indulging in propaganda, the Congress, CPI(M), AAP, Trinamool, PDP, Shiv Sena (UBT) condemned use of Central agencies for ‘intimidation’. Journalist bodies said this undermines democracy and press freedom. They drew attention to the timing of the survey soon after the release of the Gujarat documentary and felt this is meant to harass press organisations critical of the government.
Points to note here
1. The government authorities are well within their rights to conduct such tax surveys. It’s in fact among the duties of the tax authorities. These surveys are always done by surprise. Offices are sealed and documents, computer records etc. are taken for detailed examination. Any staff or residents must stay within the premises and cooperate with the authorities. The BBC was not treated differently in this matter.
When you live and work in India, the laws of the land must be followed. The BBC or any other entity is not above the laws of our country.
It's worth noting that the BBC in its home country, UK, is accused of multi-million-dollar tax evasion.
So the government is pointing out the moral of the BBC story. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
2. Detractors are crying foul about muzzling independent media. Large media houses, no matter how much they declare their independence, need big money to function.Those who provide large amounts of money do not always give out of pure charity. Would these large fund providers want the facts and ‘truth’ to be presented in a way favourable to their own interests? I always wonder how independent is independent media.
Do the source of funding want their point of view to be highlighted?
Are partial truths presented with emphasis on a true angle, while downplaying other equally true aspects to a story?
Switch from one news channel to another when you watch TV, and you will clearly understand what I mean. Each news channel seems to be describing a different world. Each channel is offering facts, visuals etc. These are true, but is this the entire truth? Certain facts are presented to cleverly highlight an aspect of the issue. All angles and viewpoints regarding any issue are rarely given equal importance to provide a comprehensive and balanced picture.
In its own words, ‘The commercially funded BBC World News TV channel broadcasts globally in English.’
3. The BBC has a track record of similar difficulties with the Indian Government.
In 1970, BBC broadcast of a documentary series by Louis Malle, caused massive outrage. BBC was accused of showing India in negative light, and the Corporation was banned by the Indira Gandhi government. BBC’s office in Delhi was also closed for two years.
The BBC was again expelled in 1975 during Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In 2015 the BBC raised a controversy for broadcasting a documentary featuring Delhi gang rape convict Mukesh Singh. The Delhi High Court upheld the ban on broadcast of the documentary and also prohibited its internet broadcast.
In 2017, the BBC was prohibited from filming in India's national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The Indian government had claimed that the BBC poaching broadcast had caused ‘irreparable damage’ to the country’s image.
As for the BBC raising controversies in other countries, and cries of having their freedom curtailed, in 2021, China's National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) said that BBC World News reports about China were found to "seriously violate" broadcast guidelines, including "the requirement that news should be truthful and fair" and not "harm China's national interests".
It said that the BBC's application to air for another year would not be accepted.
This was mainly with regard to BBCs coverage of the Covid situation in China.
In 2006, the BBC was accused of trying to block the release of the Balen Report, which was believed to be highly critical of its Middle East coverage of the Arab Israeli conflict. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli diplomatic officials boycotted BBC news programmes, citing biased reporting.
In conclusion, BBC is continuing its reporting of events worldwide, which is fair from their point of view.
Governments, organizations and individuals too, have the right to point out anything they see as unbalanced or inappropriate from their point of view.
With such checks and balances, and due respect to various points of view, true freedom of expression is maintained.
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)