BBC and India

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Problems with reports about India

Indira Gandhi

AMIT AGARWAL, July 15, 1995: ’’India Today’’

Footage from Chechnya used in the Charar-e-Sharief story
From: AMIT AGARWAL, July 15, 1995: ’’India Today’’

Overly sarcastic as this view might seem, at BBC Worldwide Television these days, there is some reason for distress. The network is having a trying time recovering from two major goof-ups that threaten to damage its credibility. First, one of its producers in London mixed up pictures from Kashmir and Chechnya in a story on the Charar-e-Sharief incident; the wrong footage was repeated several times on the network.

Then, a BBC crew in Italy was caught "faking" pictures for a feature on drugs, forcing the network to admit to "serious errors of judgment". A BBC official told INDIA TODAY that the network will go in for "tougher and tighter procedures". But will that be enough to keep the Beeb's formidable reputation intact in the tough, new world of television journalism?

While Barry Langridge, head of BBC World Service Radio's South Asian region, says that the network may now have "two pairs of eyes looking at incoming pictures", he dismisses the Chechnya mix-up as a "technical mistake". BBC sources in London, however, say that "little mistakes" are now frequent on the network.

The Taj Mahal ends up in Varanasi; the Prime Minister of Nepal, Manmohan Adhikary, becomes Manmohan Singh; and David Loyn, BBC bureau chief in India, fails to correct an anchor who draws a parallel between the burning down of the shrine at Charar-e-Sharief and the "destruction" of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

The network's lapses have given New Delhi ammunition in its campaign to portray it as biased against India, particularly on Kashmir coverage. Government officials allege that BBC in London has staff sympathetic to Pakistan; that its Urdu radio service has a pro-Pakistan slant; and that its journalists in Delhi fail to contact government spokespersons whenever a crisis breaks out. A bureau-crat in the Jammu and Kashmir Government alleges that the BBC stringer in Srinagar, Yusuf Jameel, is "biased". Jameel, according to him, "always plays up the militants' point of view and only sees the negative side in Kashmir".

But Langridge dismisses the charges of bias while defending Jameel, whose record he says is "impeccable". In fact, officials at BBC's London headquarters say that the Indian Government is to blame when the official line is not carried or downplayed. "Unlike the Pakistanis, Indian spokespersons are either unavailable or don't know what to say when there's a crisis."

What is not difficult to understand is why the Government takes BBC's coverage so seriously. "In times of crises," says a bureaucrat in the Jammu and Kashmir Government, "it's BBC which sets the tone." The network, particularly its radio service, is generally quick off the mark and what it says often has a critical impact. Bureaucrats can do little except seethe quietly and cry dirty pool every time the network trips up.

For instance, during the Charar-e-Sharief face-off, BBC's first report said that Indian troops had "stormed" the town and "captured" the shrine. Though BBC radio did correct itself in subsequent broadcasts, BBC Worldwide Television continued to use the word "storm".

The network's real problem, according to sources in BBC's London studios, is that its overseas TV service is not as professional as its radio counterpart. "Their world-view extends from Essex to Sussex," the sources say. "And there are not enough experienced people to guide them."

While lack of funds is cited as one reason for the problem, the sources say that what BBC Worldwide Television is currently going through are teething troubles. It could be just a question of time before it acquires the expertise of its radio wing. In the meantime, as competition gets tough in the world of television journalism, BBC Worldwide perhaps needs to get tougher on itself.

Taxation issues

Acceptance by BBC\ 2023

TNN, June 6, 2023: The Times of India

BBC has “acknowledged” that it may have paid lower taxes in India than its liability, government sources said on Monday. The broadcaster, which has been under the lens of tax authorities with its offices in Delhi and Mumbai ‘surveyed’ a few months ago, is yet to file revised returns or make a written submission to the I-T department.

“It is only a statement of intent so far, there is no payment,” a source said. A survey is an exercise to check books and other documents. The survey had come soon after the broadcaster aired a controversial documentary on PM Modi. When contacted, BBC’s London office refused to comment.

Without naming BBC, in February, the income tax department had alleged that the income and profits disclosed by the organisation's units were “not commensurate with the scale of operations in India”.

It also said the surveys allegedly “indicate that tax has not been paid on certain remittances which have not been disclosed as income in India by the foreign entities of the group”. BBC had said at the time that it was cooperating with authorities.

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