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When India’s stand on BBC drew sharp UK diplomatic ire

Britain was angered by remarks made by the Indian representative when a UN committee was discussing the new world information and communication order in 1985.

world Updated: Aug 02, 2017 08:29 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Photo of the declassified British government document  documenting the UK’s anger at India’s statement at a UN meeting on the new world information and communication order in 1985.
Photo of the declassified British government document documenting the UK’s anger at India’s statement at a UN meeting on the new world information and communication order in 1985.(HT Photo)

An Indian diplomat’s Oxford education was questioned by the British along with the hope that he be dropped “in the mire” after New Delhi made a thinly veiled criticism of the BBC's reporting of India and other developing countries at a UN committee meeting in November 1985.

Declassified documents newly released by the National Archives reveal that India’s statement at the UN special political committee in New York on “Questions Relating to Information” was delivered by an MP, K K Tewari, but had been drafted by the diplomat in the Indian mission, Bhaskar Mitra.

Tewari’s five-page speech did not name the BBC but a noting by the British on a copy of the speech identifies it as such, and the matter also figured in a sharp note by the British diplomat at the UN, Keith Evetts, to the Foreign Office in London, titled “Indian Mischief”.

The note states: “(A) pretty obvious swipe at the BBC...No doubt this comes as no surprise to those who know their Indians better than I do, but I must confess I thought it a rather gratuitous attack. Although the statement was delivered by an Indian MP it was drafted by Mitra, to whom I am beginning to begrudge his Oxford education.”

In the note copied to the British high commission in New Delhi, Evetts added, “I assume he failed to get into Cambridge....I am now happy for Chancery New Delhi to take any suitable opportunity to drop Mitra in the mire, though subtlety will no doubt be required if I am not to be splattered as well.”

The UN committee was discussing the new world information and communication order, marked by clear divisions between the developed and developing nations. India was at the forefront of espousing the developing world’s view that the Western media had a bias against it.

The passage in Tewari’s statement that particularly angered the British side was the veiled reference to BBC: “The world community was recently shocked when it was revealed that an influential news agency in a western country had a system of having its news vetted and approved by the intelligence agency of the country.

“This speaks eloquently of the objectivity of the reports of the news agency which is known for its bias against developing countries.

“Selective freedom in reporting by the Western media of incidents in their own countries...is evident; but when it comes to reporting on non-aligned and developing countries freedom becomes licence and is sometimes shamelessly abused.”

India’s statement at the UN committee was delivered at a time when New Delhi was upset at anti-India forces based in the United Kingdom being interviewed by the BBC and given space in the British news media.