UK govt strongly defends BBC says ‘We Fund Them’ after I-T surveys at its India offices


 UK govt strongly defends BBC: The UK govt questioned by MPs in the House of Commons on its response to the income tax (IT) raids on BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai last week. Tory MP David Rutley, who is the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), took questions on the raid and freedom of expression in India, from members representing a cross-section of Opposition parties as well as his own, for just under 20 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Rutley strongly defends BBC.

“We stand up for the BBC, we fund the BBC, we think the BBC World Service is vitally important,” Mr. Rutley said, adding that the U.K. government wanted the BBC to editorial freedom and noting that the BBC criticizes the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

“It has that freedom which we believe is vitally important and that freedom is key. We want to be able to communicate the importance of that with our colleagues … our friends across the world, including the government in India,” he said.

“Let’s be very clear: this was a deliberate act of intimidation following the release of an unflattering documentary about the country’s leader,” said Jim Shannon, of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), as he kicked off the debate with an ‘Urgent Question’.

The BBC’s offices raided weeks after the channel aired ‘India: The Modi Question,’ a two-part documentary that was harshly critical of then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and the BJP’s relationship with India’s Muslims.

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“… Media freedom and freedom of speech essential elements for robust democracies,” Mr. Rutley said, declining to comment on the specifics of last week’s tax raid. He acknowledged that the issues  faced by NGOs and faith-based organizations in India (raised in the question) were important ones.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis characterized the raid as “extremely worrying”.

Labour MP Fabian Hamilton said India was “rightly proud” of its place as the world’s largest democracy, but called the raids “deeply worrying” regardless of the “official narrative” of why they occurred. He asked what steps weretaken to protect the BBC World Service from intimidation and what discussions Mr. Rutley ( the U.K. government) had had with the BBC and with his Indian counterpart on the welfare of the BBC staff.

“On this side of the House, we’re particularly worried about reports that suggest the BBC staff  forced to stay in their offices overnight and faced lengthy questioning,” he said.

“In any democracy, the media must have the ability to criticize and scrutinize political leaders without fear of repercussions, and that applies in this situation,” he added.

Mr. Rutley said the U.K. and India had a “broad and deep relationship” and that this particular issue had raised with the government in the context of the larger set of issues that the U.K. and India discuss. The British government was continuing to monitor the situation, as per Mr. Rutley, who said the BBC was supporting its staff and that consular support was also available to them if requested.





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