After the Income-Tax (IT) department’s three-day last week survey operations on the United Kingdom-based media corporation’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices, the British government has vehemently defended the BBC and its editorial freedom in Parliament.
In response to an urgent question from the House of Commons on Tuesday, a junior minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) stated that the government is unable to comment on the accusations made by the I-T department due to an “ongoing investigation” but emphasised that media freedom and freedom of speech are crucial components of “robust democracies.”
The UK is able to discuss a wide range of topics in a “constructive manner” thanks to a “broad and deep relationship” with India, according to David Rutley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of the FCDO. “We stand up for the BBC. We fund the BBC. We think the BBC World Service is vital. We want the BBC to have that editorial freedom,” said Rutley.
“It criticises us (government), it criticises the (Opposition) Labour party, and it has that freedom that we believe is so important. That freedom is key, and we want to be able to communicate its importance to our friends across the world, including the government in India,” he stressed.
The I-T department of India conducted what has been referred to as a survey on the BBC’s offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, starting on February 14 and concluding three days later, on February 16, the minister said the Commons.
The minister noted that the BBC is operationally and editorially independent and that the FCDO funds services in 12 languages, including four Indian languages: Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, and Telugu. The minister also noted the importance of the public broadcaster.
Pressed on by Opposition MPs on the ‘deeply worrying raids’ and asked about discussions with the Indian government, the minister added, “It is because of our broad and deep relationship with India that we are able to discuss a wide range of issues in a constructive manner with its government.”
British Sikh Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi expressed his concerns that “India, a nation with which we have shared values of democracy and press freedoms, decided to conduct a raid on the BBC offices after the airing of a documentary critical of the Indian prime minister’s actions.”