Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi
Since Modi came to power in 2014, some journalists and other media workers have alleged that a systematic silencing of critical reporting has taken place and that journalists have been targeted as “anti-national” threats to the state. In this year’s World Press Freedom Index, India dropped down to 150 out of 180 countries, its lowest ranking on record.
“Did BBC Take Cash From China For Propaganda?” ran the opening title on the primetime news debate. As the flashy graphics of Republic TV, India’s hardline and overwhelmingly popular news channel, faded and its presenter Arnab Goswami appeared on the screen, he addressed millions of viewers across the country directly. “Ladies and gentlemen, our worst suspicions have been proved absolutely correct,” he said. “The BBC is funded by China.”
Two weeks later, on Tuesday, more than 50 officers from the income tax department descended on the Delhi and Mumbai offices of the BBC. Over the course of three days, officials went through documents, searched emails and cloned phones and laptops, according to BBC employees who were inside the building. At least 10 BBC employees, including five senior editors, were kept there for three nights until the “tax survey” was finally completed on Friday.
The government insisted it was simply carrying out routine checks. “There is absolutely no correlation between what the BBC has put out and what the income tax authorities in India have done,” said Kanchan Gupta, an adviser at the ministry of information and broadcasting….