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Raids On News Organizations And Press Freedom



 The British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) New Delhi and Mumbai offices were the target of a "survey activity" by the Income Tax Department.


Press Freedom in India:

• Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, 1950: In this case, the Supreme Court stated that press freedom is the cornerstone of all democratic institutions.

• Under Article 19, which is titled "Protection of Certain Rights Regarding Freedom of Speech, etc.," the Indian Constitution provides the right to freedom of speech and expression.

• Implied Right: Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution implies that freedom of the press is maintained even though it is not explicitly guaranteed by Indian law. 

Moreover, press freedom is not unqualified:

• Article 19(2) limits the constraints that a law may impose on the exercise of this right, and such limitations are as follows:

o Security of the State,

o Indian sovereignty and integrity,

o Friendly relations with other countries;

o Public order, morality, or decency;

o Contempt of court; 

o Defamation; 

o Incitation to commit an offense. 

What Did They Do?

• The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) published a news release alleging tax evasion on remittances and inconsistencies in BBC's transfer pricing system.


Reaction from news organizations:

• The raids have been referred to as "very distressing" by the Press Club of India.

• They were described as "intimidation" by the Editors Guild. 

activities before raids:

• The BBC's two-part documentary series "India: The Modi Question," which was broadcast on January 17, 2023, is a logical conclusion of a tax examination.

• On January 20, 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology issued an emergency secret order blocking the documentary's website links. 

• As they now involve the seizure of equipment, the acts have taken on a sinister quality.

• Journalists are considered potential criminals, as was the case with the BBC.

• Information regarding journalists' working procedures was requested from them while their laptops and phones were being inspected.

• Even if the CBDT complaint is thought to be credible, the probe would, at best, be restricted to accounting and financial matters.

• Without any explicit and convincing justification for expanding a digital dragnet to include working journalists (fishing expedition).

• A growing practice in India involves the collection of private information from journalists by the tax and police authorities.


Situations where device searches affect press freedom:


This Quint Owners and senior editors of periodicals like The Wire, Alt News, Bharat Samachar, Dainik Bhaskar, and NewsClick


• Journalists like Siddique Kappan, Fahad Shah, and Rupesh Kumar Singh;

• The Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation (IPMSF). The executive response only tells half the truth: • The Ministry of Home Affairs cannot "centrally maintain" the device seizures of journalists since "law and order" and "police" are matters that are the responsibility of State governments. 


Why is this a partial fact?


The Crime in India report requests information from State governments, and it is simple to add information on journalists' gadget seizures.

The Ministry of Finance can retain and publish such a record as many of the searches and seizures have been carried out by central organizations like the Income-Tax Department.


• Institutional avoidance only serves to raise doubts about the validity of charges; it indicates a lack of interest on the part of the administration, especially the Union government, in giving the matter any careful thought. 

Legal position:

• Protecting free speech, especially that of its most dissenting voices, is a judicial responsibility unique to democracies.

• Lawyer Abhinav Sekhri: "rooted in the admitted colonial ethos of maximizing state interests while limiting any pretense of protection to the accused persons".

• India's procedural law for criminal cases is the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

In addition to the ethos that permeates our criminal justice system, specific law provisions provide police personnel latitude. Criminal courts infrequently review the police's investigative techniques and evidence gathering.

• CBDT's "survey action" (tax specialists like Deepak Joshi): Investigating officers in a "survey action" will freely undertake a more intrusive "search and seizure" without any fear of punishment or limitations on their authority. 

• The first cluster necessitates the application of the fundamental right to privacy derived from the Supreme Court's decision in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017); its application to the criminal justice system is awaited in instances involving electronic evidence.

• Stricter procedural protections are necessary today due to digitalization, and the K. Basu rules as applicable to a digital India may also be a solution.

• A muscular CEO avoiding a direct response to a critical piece and in bad faith directing legal attention to the newspaper itself is a contemporary tendency that is an adaption of an old template.

• Jurist Rajeev Dhawan(1986): The partial attention accorded to the operational and institutional demands of the press seems to have gone out".


Indeed, there has been a tragically protracted period of silence on journalistic freedom. The notion of "effect and consequence" needs to be revived by the Supreme Court and applied to take into account a wider range of executive activities that will influence how our criminal courts operate. In the BBC instance, it's important to consider whether a program critical of the Prime Minister is to blame for the scrutiny rather than just whether tax evasion claims are being made.

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