‘BBC caught with pants down’


By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

‘BBC caught with pants down’ – that’s how one Indian news channel, The Alternate Media, concluded its coverage of the ‘tax fraud’ committed by the BBC in India, which has been exposed by a survey that was carried out in the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai about two months ago.

BBC ‘accepts’ evading taxes in India.  Pic – The Economic Times

How does this concern me? Well, it does, because right from my student days at the Royal College Curepipe, our education was biased in favour of everything British. Both overtly and subtly, we were led to believe that Great Britain and British institutions, especially the monarchy, as well as British values of fairness and justice, were the ideals to be looked up to and lived by. Along with the monarchy, the British Parliament and the BBC were the two other arms of British rule that were impressed upon us – the parliament as the temple of democracy, and the BBC as the best source of reliable information and the supreme example of spoken English that should be emulated.

Only Queen’s English was then acceptable at the BBC. Until Independence it was the tradition to have British Rectors at RCC, and in 1960 when I was in Form IV a new Rector took over, Mr Herbert Bullen. He not only exhorted us but actually tried to make us speak ‘squeaky clean’ Queen’s English – though that largely didn’t happen – by making us read passages which he would record on those big tape recorders, then play them out and correct our pronunciation one by one. Not only that, he stressed that we should listen to the 8 o’clock BBC news every morning, both for the accuracy of the information and the proper pronunciation. Those were the days of the box radios, and I tried to be as regular as possible in following the advice of Mr Bullen.

And that is why I was stunned by the news that the BBC, which has always tried to paint a whiter than white lily image of itself – vide Mauvilac’s advert for its white paint: ‘plus blanc que blanc’ – had been found to be guilty of tax evasion by the Indian authorities, to the tune of nearly Indian Rs 400 million. Perhaps I ought not to have been surprised, because it is by now a known fact that one can no longer count on the BBC for the validity of its news, especially where India is concerned. Those who know better have drawn attention repeatedly to the ‘wokeism’ that has infiltrated that once venerable institution, and that its coverage can be very biased.

A glaring example was the film that BBC showed earlier this year titled ‘India: The Modi Question’. It raked up old issues already disposed of by judgements of the Supreme Court of India, and those who made that film wanted to act as a supra-Supreme Court and give their version based on material that had already been discredited and dismissed by India’s Supreme Court. The film was banned in India, and currently the BBC is being sued in the Supreme Court there. The plaintiff is represented by eminent jurist and constitutional expert, Harish Salve, who has a robust track record, having also successfully defended the Indian government at the International Court in The Hague.

The Opposition in India, mainly the Congress, accused the authorities of vindictiveness on the BBC for showing the film, when the survey was ordered by the tax department afterwards. However, this is not at all the case, because according to Indian media since well a year before the tax department had been seeking information about its financial data from BBC India, and this was not forthcoming, thus leaving it with no choice but to conduct the survey – the timing being a mere coincidence.

Apparently ‘BBC has reportedly “acknowledged” that it may have paid lower taxes than required in India’ but is ‘yet to file revised returns or make a written submission to the I-T department.’

I don’t care for BBC news now.

* * *

Democracies, such as they are!

Perhaps the British politician Winston Churchill was right about democracy after all, not that it is the best form of government, but the least bad. For what we have been witnessing in recent times has emptied the word democracy of any real meaning. All democratic countries have been convulsed by all manner of scandals – fraud and corruption both in government and private sectors, bank scandals leading to financial crises, violent street protests that have had to be met by equally violent counters so as to control the situation, refusal of democratically elected governments to provide answers to queries raised by the respective oppositions that, incidentally, do exactly the same thing when they in their turn assume power after an election!

Not to mention the postponement of elections, which happens in some democracies where the prime minister has the prerogative to fix election dates. Although in the US the Presidential election and the installation of the new president are held on fixed dates in November and January respectively every four years without fail, this does mean that it is the perfect example of democratic functioning either. There are so many fault lines in the US, from ‘institutionalised racism’ to the ills of runaway capitalism that keeps widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots – and that we find in all democracies as well, including our own country. Here, because of the smallness of the country, this is even more glaring, and no budgetary measures down the years have been able to correct this imbalance.

The US is the oldest democracy and India is the largest one, in both of which freedom of expression quite often takes extreme forms, which can be paradoxical too. This is the case with India currently. One of its former opposition MPs, Rahul Gandhi (who has been disqualified as such by a Court in India) has gone on a tour in some US cities sponsored by US-based supporters of his party the Congress and backed by organizations with dubious credentials that symbolize the Congress’s vote banks. There he has openly criticized India’s Prime Minister and said that democracy is dead in India. The fact that he can do that in foreign country as well as in India, and not get arrested and jailed, is itself proof enough of the exact opposite!

In a statement that contradicts him, the US authorities have qualified India as being a vibrant democracy and invited à qui de droit to go to India’s capital city New Delhi and to see for themselves! Whether this stance, which comes in the wake of an earlier one on human rights issues in India, has anything to do with anticipated trade deals that may come up during the forthcoming PM Modi’s official visit to the US is another matter. So too is the bipartisan invitation to him to address the US Congress. But it is undeniable that he has emerged as a respected and sought after global leader, under whose watch India’s growth rate is expected to be the highest at over 6%.

As Rajya Sabha MP and BJP national president JP Nadda has remarked, ‘Under his leadership, India has moved away from vote bank politics to report card politics, and from dynasty to democracy and meritocracy.’

Maybe there are lessons for our own country too in this remark.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 June 2023

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