Documentary on PM Modi: UK govt says BBC ‘independent’
LONDON: The UK government said on Thursday that the BBC is “independent” in its output, its remarks coming in the wake of protests by the Indian diaspora in the UK against a controversial documentary, “India: The Modi Question”, aired by Britain’s national broadcaster.
No 10, Downing Street stressed it wants to continue to invest heavily in its relationship with India.
Many in British and Indian circles are concerned that UK-India relations, which had hitherto been on an upward trajectory with an FTA in the offing, might get damaged by the documentary’s fallout.
UK foreign secretary James Cleverly met Indian high commissioner to the UK Vikram K Doraiswami to discuss concerns over the controversial BBC Two documentary, which has been banned in India, British PM Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson confirmed late Wednesday.
Responding to a question from TOI at a Downing Street briefing, to whether Sunak was concerned this documentary might have an adverse impact on UK-India relations and the FTA, the spokesperson said: “We obviously recognise how the BBC documentary’s portrayal of the Indian government has played out in India. The foreign secretary has discussed the issue with the Indian high commissioner in London. As you will appreciate, the BBC is independent in its output and we would stress that. We continue to regard India as an incredibly important international partner. We will be investing heavily in our relationship with India over the coming decades. We are confident it will only go from strength to strength.”
On Monday, MP Bob Blackman had told Cleverly about the widespread protests outside BBC headquarters on Sunday following the “anti-India propaganda broadcast by the BBC” and asked: “What discussions has my right honourable friend had with the Indian high commissioner to reassure our Commonwealth partner that this propaganda is not the policy of this government?” Cleverly replied: “I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Indian high commissioner on this and a number of other issues. I made it clear that the BBC is independent in its output, that the UK regards India as an incredibly important international partner.”
At the Downing Street briefing TOI probed more details on the unpublished UK internal report into the 2002 post-Godhra riots, which the BBC claims to have got hold of in the first episode of the documentary. The PM’s spokesperson said: “I am not aware of the specifics of the report so would direct you to the foreign office.”
At the same briefing TOI also quizzed Sunak’s spokesperson as to whether there were plans to restrict international students or reduce the two-year post-study work visa to bring down immigration numbers as has been speculated in the British media. “I am not going to comment on speculation on the future policy but our points-based immigration system (which) we introduced is specifically designed to flex according to our own needs and interests. We will always consider options to make sure the immigration system is delivering for British people, including looking at the issue of students and dependants,” the spokesperson said.