BBC Urges Staff to Co-operate as 50-Hour IT ‘Survey’ Raises Concerns Over Data Deletion

The Income Tax department’s “survey” of the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices has continued for a third day. As the operation stretches beyond 50 hours, the broadcaster has sent an internal communication to its employees instructing them not to delete any data from their electronic devices. The survey is being carried out to investigate issues related to international taxation and transfer pricing of BBC subsidiary companies.

In the communication, which was accessed by India Today, the BBC urged its staff to cooperate with the I-T Department probe. “Questions about the BBC’s structure, activities, organisation, and operations in India are within the remit of the investigation and should be answered. Questions about your personal tax affairs are outside the remit of the investigation,” the communication said.

The survey teams are seeking answers on financial transactions, the company structure, and other details about the news company, and are copying data from electronic gadgets as part of their task of collecting the evidence, tax officials have said. The authorities have not provided a specific timeline for the completion of the investigation.

“The officers may record what you say in so far as what you say is related to the income tax survey. They may describe this as being ‘under oath’ – this simply means you should tell the truth,” the internal communication further stated. “The officers have no powers of arrest. You should be provided with breaks and refreshments. If you need to take any medication, or have to leave to fulfil caring responsibilities or for health reasons, you should make a request to the Investigating team and the inspectors should allow you to leave. It goes without saying that you should not delete or conceal any information on any of your devices.”

While there has been no official statement from the Income Tax department on the action, the BBC has said it is cooperating with the authorities. On Tuesday, the ruling BJP accused the BBC of “venomous reporting” while the Opposition questioned the timing of the action that came weeks after the broadcaster aired a two-part documentary “India: The Modi Question” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

The BBC’s offices in Delhi and Mumbai have been the subject of I-T Department surveys since February 14. The investigations are part of a wider probe into the tax affairs of foreign companies operating in India. The BBC has previously faced scrutiny from Indian authorities over the taxation of its subsidiary in the country.

The “survey” at the BBC’s office has led to concerns over press freedom and the ability of journalists to operate without fear of retribution. Amnesty International has called on the Indian government to respect the rights of journalists and media houses to operate freely. The National Union of Journalists of India has also expressed its concerns over the survey, saying that it was an attack on press freedom.

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