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BBC underreported income to dodge tax; Will the broadcaster now come clean?

BBC hits the headlines once again

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is in the spotlight once again. According to reports, the broadcaster, supported by the UK government, has admitted to having underreported its income and thereby paying lower taxes. National dailies the Times of India and Hindustan Times both carried the report quoting unnamed CBDT officials. HT said that the news organisation in an email to CBDT admitted that it had underreported some Rs 40 crore of income in its tax returns.

“The Department will continue to take action against it until the matter is taken to the logical conclusion,” HT quoted a CBDT official as saying.

BBC has not issued any statement. It has neither denied the reports nor acknowledged.

In February, the Income Tax department conducted surveys at the BBC premises in New Delhi and Mumbai for alleged non-compliance with the transfer pricing rules and its vast diversion of profits. But several media organisations, non governmental organisations (NGOs) and rights activists came forth in supporting BBC.

Many questioned the timing of the IT surveys, which were undertaken just a few days after the Centre banned the screening of the two part documentary — India: The Modi Question.

“The tax department’s raids, which are being presented as ‘surveys’, come less than a month after the organization released a documentary that openly criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These raids are a blatant affront to freedom of expression. The Indian authorities are clearly trying to harass and intimidate the BBC over its critical coverage of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,” Aakar Patel, Chair of Amnesty International India’s Board said.

But if BBC has admitted to underpaying of taxes, as reports suggest, the news organisation will have to do some answering as well.

A former official of the CBDT told India Narrative that the taxmen often let go of the news organisations that have failed to comply with the tax norms due to fear of being targeted.

“Whenever any kind of questioning or surveys have been conducted on a news organisation in India, we have come under unwarranted scrutiny. While we can send tax queries to companies or even individuals, we are not so open to the same exercise when it comes to a news organisation. Invariably news organisations present themselves as above any kind of scrutiny,” the person said.

Meanwhile, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2022 revealed that trust in BBC News fell 20 percentage points in the last five years00 from 75 per cent to 55 per cent. “Equally telling is the proportion who say they distrust the BBC, which has grown from 11 per cent to 26 per cent,” the survey noted.

An internet search on BBC controversies will throw up multiple options.

In 2021, BBC was under the spotlight for the unscrupulous manner in which it got the interview with the late Prince Diana. Lord Dyson, a former senior judge who handled an independent inquiry found that BBC journalist Martin Bashir, used fake documents to not only secure the interview but also lied to the top officials of the broadcaster.

The BBC even had to issue an “unconditional apology” for the way it obtained the interview in 1995.

In India, many questioned the timing of the BBC documentary on PM Modi. “The Supreme Court—the highest court in India has closed the case and this happened during the Congress-led UPA era, the riots took place 20 years ago, what is the reason for such a documentary at this point,” an analyst had earlier said.

The BBC’s editorial guideline reads as follows: “We are independent, impartial and honest. We are committed to achieving the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality and strive to avoid knowingly or materially misleading our audiences.”

But it is time that not just BBC but news organisations the world over follow what they preach.

Also read: IT authorities accuse BBC of diversion of profits, violating transfer pricing rules