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‘Tax Surveys’ on BBC: Why Western World has no Right to preach India on ‘Freedom of Press’


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The Income Tax department’s ‘survey’ at the BBC office here continued for the third straight day on Thursday as officials collected financial data from select employees and made copies of paper and electronic data of the news organization. The operation that began at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) offices in Delhi and Mumbai around 11:30 am on Tuesday has clocked more than 45 hours now, and it may take a while before this action may be wrapped up.

As expected, this survey by the Indian Tax Authorities of the BBC’s entities has triggered a wave of predictable responses within the journalistic and liberal community, from both inside and outside India.

While some are blaming the Government and accusing it of taking a revenge against BBC’s documentary, ‘India: The Modi Question’, others are seeing personal parallels from their own past experiences in India, real and imagined. Whereas, there are a section which is stretching the boundaries of facts and logic to look for misplaced parallels across continents.

The timing of the survey has also provoked the Opposition to attack the government, as the operation came weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots. On January 21, the government issued directions to block multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary.

On the other hand the Western World is also reacting aggressively on this survey, and preaching the same old gyan of protection of the freedom of press. Western media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian, etc, have posted articles which are highly critical of the Indian government.

The Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India have condemned the government, confounding the action against BBC with an assault on the Indian press. This is questioning the legitimacy of the probe by the Income Tax Department into tax evasion practices by the BBC even before the results of the “survey” have been made public.

The solidarity of the Indian press bodies with the BBC exposes the close networks forged between the foreign press and the Indian press, which also explains how the pages of our press have become so porous to Western propaganda through writings of foreign columnists, Western news agencies, the local diplomatic corps, and so on.

The BBC is known for its highly biased reporting against the Indian Government, irrespective of the government at the helm. Western world is portraying as if Indian government has put the freedom of press under the bus, but they are only exaggerating the facts here. Our own media freely criticizes Modi and the government, even carrying abusive references to the Prime Minister.

This is the normal part of our democratic functioning and processes. No foreign media organization has the right to play Opposition politics in India or any third country. It does not even have the right to operate in any foreign country, as it must seek the permission of a foreign government to do so, and that permission can be withdrawn if the media organization is unethical, interferes in local politics or constantly misreports on a country.

However, everyone is conveniently ignoring that such surveys are routinely conducted to unearth any financial irregularity. Also, under the Sections 132 and 133A of the I-T Act of 1961, the Central government is completely within its right to conduct not only surveys but search and seizure operations too, if there is enough prima facie evidence of persistent violations of tax laws and tax evasion. This is exactly what the BBC in India has been found guilty of. Manipulation of prices for unauthorized benefits including tax advantages are serious crimes and the BBC India is found to be a repeat offender.

Not many people but BBC knows that numerous notices have been issued to the BBC from time to time by different I-T authorities including Transfer Pricing Officer and the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal. However, BBC India has been continuously non-compliant and defiant in this entire process. Those alleging this is a vendetta by the Modi government need to know that the BBC is not holier than thou. In fact, BBC has been accused of committing multi-million-dollar tax evasion and irregularities in its home country, the United Kingdom (UK).

BBC has reportedly been deliberately diverting a large amount of the profits and has not followed the “arm’s length” arrangement. Arm’s length means that the price a company pays to purchase goods or services from a related company should be the same as if the two entities were unrelated. There should be no price adjustment for the transaction simply because the parties are related legal entities. “Arm’s length” is an expression which is commonly used to refer to transactions in which two or more unrelated and unaffiliated parties agree to do business, acting independently and in their self-interest.

For BBC India’s Mumbai and Delhi offices to be surveyed by India’s I-T officials, clearly, enough incriminating evidence has already got to be there in possession of tax officials. The other objective of initiating a search, sometimes, is may be to get hold of the books of account or documents which have a bearing on the tax liability of an entity that seeks to withhold, by way of repeated non-compliance of notices or summons issued by the authorities, which is exactly what BBC India has repeatedly done.

Suffice to say, the law of the land in India is supreme, equal for all and does not discriminate. That said, BBC India has to comply with India’s tax laws and judicial process. Crying wolf will not work. Period.


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