Day after arrests, Zee News, Jindal firm trade charges

A day after two top Zee executives were arrested for alleged extortion, both Zee News Ltd and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) sought aggressively to argue their competing cases.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Zee News repeated that the arrests were illegal and represented a "black day" for Indian media. JSPL on the other hand demanded to know if it wasn't the media's "responsibility to portray the truth and play a role in investigations against those bringing a bad name to media".

JSPL sought the cancellation of Zee News's broadcast licence.

Zee News Ltd described the arrests of Sudhir Chaudhary, editor and business head of Zee News, and Sameer Ahluwalia, editor and business head of Zee Business, as a crude attack on the independence of the media.

Zee News alleged again that it was JSPL — owned by Naveen Jindal, the Congress MP from Kurukshetra —which had offered its executives a bribe of Rs 100 crore to stop an investigation into alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks by the UPA government.

Zee News, which has several news channels including Zee News and Zee Business, is owned by Subhash Chandra, a leading entrepreneur who also has interests in real estate, infrastructure and commodities among other sectors. JSPL is a $ 3.5-billion company with interests in steel and power.

In a statement issued after Zee's press conference, JSPL responded to Zee's "black day" description: "...The black day was the day when these editors tried to extort Rs 100 crore from the Jindal Group."

It said, "Broadcast licences are given to news channels to air the truth and inform, and not to blackmail people and extort money. That is why along with the editors of Zee News, the nexus of its management in the extortion case should be investigated and action should be taken against them."

The company also asked if the owners of Zee had been served notices by Delhi Police. "If yes, then why are they trying to duck investigations?"

Zee News's CEO Alok Agrawal, who addressed the press conference with lawyer R K Handoo, alleged that Jindal had tried to influence Zee's investigation through various individuals including his eldest brother Prithvi Jindal, uncle Sitaram Jindal and politicians Digvijaya Singh of the Congress and Raman Singh and Arjun Munda of the BJP.

Agrawal also alleged that Jindal's mother Savitri Jindal had tried to put "emotional pressure" by asking Jawahar Goel, brother of Zee Group chairman Subhash Chandra, to intervene in the channel's investigation.

"We had stopped the broadcast of stories and asked Jindal group to provide us their version. However, rather than responding, they filed an FIR," Agrawal said.

JSPL has said that its representatives did indeed seek meetings with Zee editors to present their side of the story, but Zee had continued its "one-sided and malicious" coverage, and then sought a commitment of Rs 100 crore in advertising to stop the reports.

Zee News for the first time conceded Wednesday that Chaudhary and Ahluwalia had met JSPL officials, and that the alleged conversation about Rs 100 crore had in fact happened. Agrawal said the company had never denied the conversations, but "if we take just five minutes of a conversation stretching over hours, then it can be made to look incriminating".

Lawyer Handoo said, "The FIR was filed under Section 384 (extortion) read with Section 511 (attempt) of the IPC. They should have filed a case under Section 385 (attempt to extortion), but it was not done as any offence under that section is bailable." If no money changed hands, Handoo asked, "then how can it be termed as extortion?"

Both sides have filed defamation cases against each other in Bombay High Court.

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