BBC splits India operations after tax raids following Modi documentary

Independent production company set up to comply with Indian investment law after raids on British broadcaster's offices last year

A cameraman works outside a building housing BBC offices in New Delhi during tax raids on the British broadcaster's India operations. Reuters
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The British Broadcasting Corporation has split the operations of its biggest overseas news bureau in India following tax raids by authorities in the aftermath of a controversial documentary about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Four former BBC staff members have formed an independent production company called the Collective Newsroom.

It will produce news content for the BBC’s six Indian regional language services and Indian YouTube channel in English for audiences globally, the BBC said in a statement on its website.

The BBC will, however, retain its newsgathering team in India for its English-language digital, television and radio services, which will report to editors in London.

“The establishment of Collective Newsroom Private Limited ensures the BBC and Collective Newsroom can meet their shared commitment to Indian audiences and cover stories on India that matter to global audiences,” the BBC said.

The company is in “compliance” with the Indian Foreign Direct Investment law, it added.

The move comes a year after the BBC's offices in the capital New Delhi and in Mumbai, the financial capital, were raided for three days by the tax department over alleged tax evasion links.

The raids in February last year came a month after Mr Modi’s government blocked the airing of the two-part BBC documentary titled India: The Modi Question that questioned his leadership during the 2002 Gujarat riots, when he was the chief minister of the western state.

The BBC has not aired the documentary in India but the video was available on some YouTube channels.

Mr Modi’s government immediately denounced it as propaganda and banned its screening, using emergency powers available under information technology rules.

The government ordered Twitter to block more than 50 tweets with links to the documentary and YouTube to block any uploads, renewing debate about freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy.

The second part of the documentary focuses on government policies since Mr Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, after a landslide election win by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The raids on the BBC sparked criticism from opposition leaders, journalists and press associations and human rights activists.

At the time, the BBC said it would continue to “report without fear or favour”.

The broadcasting giant launched its Hindi language service in 1940, seven years before India gained independence from British rule.

It later expanded its services to provide content in five other Indian languages – Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu – as well as in English, reaching 82 million people around the country on average each week, it said.

The Collective Newsroom will be run by four Indian former BBC employees and employ nearly 200 others. The BBC said they “have a wealth of editorial and programme-making experience”.

The BBC's 90 remaining staff members in India will work directly for the broadcaster for television, radio and online in English, reporting to London. The news will be available to Indian audiences, although not published in India.

“Audiences in India can be assured that the BBC’s Indian language services and unique range of quality output will inform, educate and entertain audiences across our diverse and highly engaged country under the agreement between the BBC and Collective Newsroom,” Rupa Jha, senior news editor at BBC India and founding shareholder of Collective Newsroom, said.

“We launch Collective Newsroom with big ambitions for audiences in India and beyond,” she added.

Updated: April 10, 2024, 7:16 PM