There can be no defence of violators of law, including the tax laws, and it is the solemn duty of the government through its agencies to bring the culprits to justice. However these agencies need to be above suspicion and should be doing and, importantly, seem to be doing their job above political considerations.
Unfortunately that’s exactly not happening in the country. There is an uncanny and distinct pattern in which the law enforcing central agencies, including the Income Tax, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigations are acting.
It appears that that top officers keep a tab on organisations and individuals who become inconvenient for the government and make extraordinary efforts to launch a probe against such organisations.
That the raids, surveys and searches follow a pattern is common knowledge. The outcome of these actions might take months or years, and it could be that these actions ultimately end up in acquittals by the courts, but these send out powerful signals to even those who might be thinking of venturing into any criticism of the government of the day.
Supporters of the government and the ruling party might argue that no organisation, including those from media, can claim immunity from law and must face prosecution for any violations. However the actions by these agencies have almost become predictable. The latest in the series bring the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
The raids on the international organisation, partly funded by the British government, came on the heels of a documentary pertaining to the Gujarat riots under the watch of the then chief minister Narendra Modi. The documentary had come under severe criticism from the ruling party and even the government had ordered that it be removed from social media.
BBC had subsequently released another documentary on the status of minorities in the country. The IT raids coming within a few days of the release of these documentaries is too much of a coincidence.
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Even mobile phones and laptops of journalists working for the organisation were seized during the raid. In the past such actions had been taken against several other media houses.
The Editors Guild of India, in a statement, expressed its deep concerned about the Income Tax surveys at the offices of BBC India. It said that the surveys by the IT 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” and added that “in each case, the raids and surveys were against the backdrop of critical coverage of the government establishment by the news organisations”.
Stating that the trend “undermines constitutional democracy, the Guild has demanded “that great care and sensitivity be shown in all such investigations so as to not undermine the rights of journalists and media organisations”.
Unfortunately the attempts to cow down the media are not building up any credibility for the government. On the other hand, it is losing credibility except in the eyes of its diehard supporters who jump to the defence of all such actions. They not only express their glee over such actions but even egg on the government agencies to take some other media houses also to task. Obviously these media houses don’t toe the government line.
Even if one does not agree with the World Freedom ranking for India at 150th rank, the record of the freedom for media and independent journalists is not quite bright.
Recently a South based journalist Siddique Kappan was kept behind bars for two years after he was arrested on the grounds that he might report on a gang rape case in Uttar Pradesh. He was released only at the intervention of the Supreme Court.
The so-called survey of BBC offices is aimed at sending out a signal to its vote bank and sections of media that no organisation, not even the venerable BBC, would be spared if it dares to be critical of the powers that be.
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The statements of some party leaders that the BBC is ‘corrupt’ and ‘anti-national’ even as the raids were being conducted exposes the true intent behind the so-called survey. Ironically the ruling party is doing exactly what it condemned during the Emergency. This bullying and intimidation must stop.
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