Denying allegations that it attempted to blackmail Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) to the tune of Rs. 100 crore, Zee News has demanded the immediate release of two of its senior journalists, terming the police action “illegal” and an attack on media freedom.
Accusing the Central government of trying to “intimidate” the media because of its own mistakes, Zee News chief executive Alok Agrawal also claimed that JSPL chairman and Congress MP Naveen Jindal had tried to bribe the channel and apply political and emotional pressure in a bid to prevent the broadcast of reports linking the company to the coal block allocation scam.
Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business editor Samir Ahluwalia were both arrested on Tuesday night, on the basis of a JSPL complaint filed in October after Mr. Jindal released hidden camera video recordings allegedly showing the two journalists trying to extort Rs. 100 crore from JSPL executives.
“It was Mr. Jindal who offered a clear bribe first to our editors, and then the company,” Mr. Agrawal told reporters on Wednesday morning. “He tried influencing senior functionaries not just directly, but through his brother Prithvi Jindal, uncle Sitaram Jindal and political interlocutors such as Congress leader Digvijay Singh, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh and Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda. All of them requested us not to publish stories against Naveen Jindal.”
He added that Mr. Jindal’s mother had been roped in to apply “emotional pressure” on Jawahar Goel, managing director of Zee’s parent company, as a result of which Zee had temporarily stopped broadcast of stories against JSPL.
In its response, JSPL said the “shield of the omnibus term ‘media’ should not be made available to those who have in fact been responsible for bringing this reverent term to discredit.”
It asked why Zee had not taken any action against the arrested journalists, and whether Zee News’ owners had been sent notices by the Delhi Police.
“Is it not the responsibility of the media to portray the truth and play a role in the investigations against such people who are defaming media and bringing it a bad name,” said a JSPL statement.