Income Tax ‘survey’ at BBC offices ends on third day, after over 58 hours

The ‘survey’ of the income tax department at BBC office premises concluded on Thursday after over 58 hours. I-T officials left the Mumbai and the Delhi offices after the marathon survey which drew criticism. During the three-day survey, the officials prepared an inventory of financial data from some staff and collected paper and digital data. The survey came soon after it aired a documentary on Gujarat riots India: The Modi Question, which criticised the role of Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat. The ‘survey’ has triggered a major political row with all political parties condemning it and calling it the government’s attempt to silence media.

During the three-day survey, the income tax officials stayed put at the offices, sleeping there, Reuters reported. Some employees were questioned about BBC’s financial transactions till late at night, the agency claimed. The laptops and the phones were handed back to the owners after officials asked for passcodes and ran checks.

The agency staff were to stay off all social media platforms in an internal memo sent by Liliane Landor, director of BBC World Service. It said the organisation would contact staff again with more details once the survey was finished.

The income tax department has not yet issued any statement regarding the surprise survey, though government advisor (information and broadcasting ministry) said BBC was served tax notices in past but they never provided “convincing response”.

The employees were also asked to not delete any data from their devices during the survey. The employees were allowed to go home on Wednesday for rest before they joined the investigation on Thursday again.

The survey, as reported, is in the view of BBC’s “deliberate non-compliance” with the Transfer Pricing Rules and “vast diversion of profits”.

Opposition parties have denounced the I-T department action against the London-headquartered public broadcaster, terming it “political vendetta”.

On Tuesday, the ruling BJP had accused the BBC of “venomous reporting” while the Opposition had questioned the timing of the action that came weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots

While there has been no official statement from the Income Tax department on the action, the BBC has said it was cooperating with the authorities.

A BBC staffer in Delhi said they were broadcasting their news like usual and the company has informed them that it is cooperating with the authorities.

The Supreme Court last week dismissed a plea seeking the imposition of a complete ban on the BBC in India in the wake of the controversial documentary, terming the petition “entirely misconceived” and “absolutely meritless”.

Another set of petitions challenging the government’s decision to block the documentary’s access on social media platforms will be heard in April.

On January 21, the government had issued directions to block multiple YouTube videos and Twitter posts sharing links to the documentary.


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