SRINAGAR, India – Tax officials in India have raided the offices of two major media houses in what the press community believes may be a retaliation to the recent coverage.
raids on the offices of income tax authority Dainik Bhaskar The newspaper group and the Bharat Samachar or BSTV regional television network took place on Thursday and Friday in six states, including Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The homes of some employees were searched and Dainik Bhaskar The agents confiscated the cell phones of some employees.
unnamed government sources cited Indian Express officials said Investigating tax evasion, false spending and “purchasing using shell entities”.
but Dainik Bhaskar And local media associations say they believe the investigation is in retaliation for critical coverage and an attempt to send a message to journalists.
Both media houses have been critical of the Indian government’s response to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, including a lack of oxygen supply and markedly low reporting of casualties.
India’s health ministry on Thursday reported 41,383 new cases of coronavirus and more than 500 daily deaths in 24 hours, Reuters reported.
Dainik Bhaskar Pegasus was one of the few Hindi-language newspapers to prominently cover the details of the spyware hack, where surveillance software licensed to governments targeted around 40 journalists in India. None Dainik BhaskarJournalists are also among those affected by the hack.
The Indian government has not publicly commented on the Pegasus project’s findings.
in a statement, Dainik Bhaskar Said it believed the raids were the result of government coverage Alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Broadcaster BSTV reacted to the raid on its offices via Twitter, saying it will “continue to tell the truth.”
We are with the truth… the public is watching
‘You sound sound’
‘Us Color Event’
‘We will neither fear’
was the first with the truth
‘you anything’ pic.twitter.com/XgBMMaEQus
— India News (@bstvlive) 22 July 2021
The Editors Guild of India in a statement condemned the raids, saying it was concerned that government agencies were being “used as a coercive tool to suppress independent and independent journalism.” The Guild said that the action “even more disturbingFollowing the revelations of Pegasus spyware targeting journalists in India.
VOA emailed India’s Directorate of Income Tax and Ministry of Finance for comment, but did not receive a response.
The Central Board of Direct Taxes – the government department responsible for tax investigations – denied any editorial interference and said the team was only probing financial transactions related to tax evasion investigations via social media.
There have been some allegations in certain sections of the media that ITDept officials were suggesting changes to stories and making editorial decisions while searching the offices of a certain publication. These allegations are absolutely false and are categorically denied by ITDept (1/3)
— Income Tax India (@IncomeTaxIndia) 22 July 2021
Daniel Bastard of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the raids could have a chilling effect on other news outlets.
Bastard, the head of the RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, told VOA: “Government agencies harassing media houses on bogus allegations have almost become a pattern now.”
He said this week’s investigation could be an excuse to scare two media groups, adding, “The reason behind this could be the intensified coverage. Dainik Bhaskar And the journalists of BSTV for the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis.”
Geeta Seshu, co-editor of Free Speech Collective, an Indian organization promoting freedom of expression, also questioned whether the raids were an attempt to send a message.
He said that both the media houses are known as supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP central government and the larger Hindutva, or Hindu nationalist agenda of the state of Uttar Pradesh.
“There is no doubt that the raid is a very brutal attempt to put together some of the biggest and most prominent Hindi language media houses. [Uttar Pradesh] Elections to be held early next year,” Sheshu told VOA.
Dainik Bhaskar According to the most recent report published by the Registrar of Newspapers of India, the daily in circulation is the largest multi-edition. The 63-year-old group operates in 12 states, publishing 65 volumes in Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi.
BSTV is a regional Hindi TV news channel focused on Uttar Pradesh from the state capital Lucknow.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, several media outlets have been investigated for alleged financial irregularities. New rules have also been put in place to ensure social media platforms comply with government takedown orders.
Investigation has been started in the media website newsclick In February this year, when members of a government financial probe agency raided his offices in South Delhi as part of an alleged money laundering probe.
At the time, the independent news website was largely reporting on farmers’ protests.
“Most of the mainstream media houses are already working under a lot of pressure and with an unhealthy dependence on the government for advertising revenue.
Media houses that still strive to be independent face court cases and lawsuits and, as newsclick Experience shows us, long hours of raids and investigations into their finances,” Seshu said.
Along with intimidation, such actions bring financial pressure and serve as a warning to other media outlets.
“It is crippling and debilitating for a free and fair media operation and ultimately for democracy,” Sesshu told the VOA.
Press Club of India President Umakant Lakhera believes that such raids are meant to convey a message to others reporting on news of public interest.
“The failures of the government are now out in the open on several fronts like economy and security and a section of the media has started to highlight these failures in recent months,” Lakhera told VOA. “The government and the party in power tries to portray those critics as anti-national in the media and the opposition. This new mantra is being used to attack political opponents. It is becoming increasingly difficult for independent media to work… [an] atmosphere.”