AA Edit | BBC survey': Just bad optics

The BJP's response that BBC resorts to venomous reporting has in fact let the cat out of the bag

The “survey” by the income tax department on the offices of the BBC hardly three weeks after the British broadcaster aired a documentary critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots cannot but be the worst message the largest democracy on earth can pass on to the rest of the world.

The department launched action against one of the most credible news organisations in the world alleging that the company was evading tax, diverting profits and contravening transfer pricing policy while also contending that the company was not cooperating with the investigation. The BBC has stated it has been cooperating with the sleuths who have been at its offices for the last two days.

The BJP’s response that “BBC resorts to venomous reporting” has in fact let the cat out of the bag. There is nothing in the law that says that a mass media organisation should communicate only stuff that the ruling party can palate. The party in power and the media enjoy the same right to the freedom of speech and expression. The party can accuse the latter of venomous reporting; it can sue the media organisation or approach regulatory authorities. It hardly pays if it unleashes statutory authorities on media organisations.

The latest action is counter-productive in too many ways. India will have little defence if and when challenged on international forums regarding its attempts at muzzling press freedom, especially while it is president of the G-20. It will undoubtedly mar India’s image as a liberal democracy which is supposed to respect the plurality of opinions. It also places the documentary, which the government has already decried as a “propaganda piece designed to push a particular discredited narrative”, in the spotlight. The government, meanwhile, must face the criticism of subjecting the media at home, too, to the same highhandedness.

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