On the one hand, while BBC said that it was “fully cooperating” with the authorities and hoped that the situation will be resolved “as soon as possible”, media bodies referred to the “crackdown” as a direct consequence of the British broadcaster’s controversial two-part documentary, ‘India: The Modi Question’, on PM Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.
New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged the Indian government to stop harassing journalists. “Indian authorities have used tax investigations as a pretext to target critical news outlets before, and must cease harassing BBC employees immediately, in line with the values of freedom that should be espoused in the world’s largest democracy,” CPJ said.
Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres called the searches by the tax authorities “an outrageous reprisal” that followed the controversial documentary, while Amnesty International said the I-T department was being “repeatedly weaponised to silence dissent”.
In New Delhi, both Editors Guild of India and the Press Club of India referred to the surveys as intimidation tactics that threatened to undermine constitutional democracy.
Pointing to repeated harassment of media organisations that were critical of the government, the Editors Guild said the surveys by the I-T department are in continuation of a “trend of using government agencies to intimidate and harass press organisations that are critical of government policies or the ruling establishment”.
The Guild demanded 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”.
The Press Club, meanwhile, said it was “deeply concerned and distressed that such an action on an international broadcasting network will damage the reputation and image of India as the largest democracy in the world”. “We appeal to the government to restrain its agencies from misusing their powers in order to intimidate the media and put curbs on the freedom of the press,” a PCI statement said.