Two senior journalists of Zee news channel were arrested in New Delhi on Tuesday on charges of trying to extort Rs. 100 crore from Congress MP Naveen Jindal's group for not doing news reports on coal scam linking his firm.
Zee News editors Sudhir Chaudhury and Sameer Ahluwalia
The arrests on charges of extortion came following the registration of a case about 45 days ago on a complaint filed by Jindal's company with Delhi Police's Crime Branch.
Sudhir Chaudhary, the head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, have been arrested, a senior police official said.
Jindal had last month released a CD in which purportedly showed footage in which the Zee journalists were trying to strike a deal with his company officials, telling them that their channel will not air negative stories of Jindal Group if the money is paid to them.
Chaudhary had rubbished the allegations as "fabrication" and described it as "pressure tactics" to prevent the channel from doing such stories.
"We have done a series of stories on coal scam based on official papers. This is a retaliation to our relentless campaign against corruption," he had said.
Jindal Power and Steel Ltd (JPSL) Chairman Naveen Jindal had earlier claimed that the Zee executives had demanded Rs. 20 crore for four years and they secretly filmed the meetings.
They later raised the demand to Rs. 100 crore for not broadcasting stories against the company in relation to allocation of coal blocks, he claimed.
JSPL is among the companies named in the CAG report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal block allocations.
In a retaliatory move, Zee News had last month sent a Rs. 150 crore defamation notice to the Congress MP, who too had filed a Rs. 200 crore case against the media conglomerate claiming the TV channel had tried to extort money from his company.
'Arrests an attack on press freedom'
Meanwhile, Zee News flayed the "arbitrary and illegal" arrest of two of its senior editors and accused the Congress-led government of "pushing the media not to say the truth and gag its mouth".
It alleged the arrest "is practically Emergency revisited" and "this will be known as another black day in Indian history".
"This is a crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press", said a Zee News statement.
Zee News on Tuesday night vehemently denied all allegations of extortion levelled against it and described the arrests of two of its senior journalists as a "crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press".
The channel accused the Jindal Steel and Power Limited, owned by Congress MP Naveen Jindal, of "using state machinery, controlled by the Congress party both at the centre and Delhi, to muzzle voices of dissent and interfere with the legitimate rights of the Media to divert attention and cloud its illegalities and misdeeds which these editors in the channel sought to highlight in public interest , highlighting the corruption in the coal gate scam after being indicted by CAG, and being investigated by the CBI."
In a statement, the company said: "After over 65 years of independence, now the present Congress-led government is pushing media not to say the truth and gag its mouth. It is practically Emergency revisited in India today on Nov 27, 2012 (this will be known as another black day in Indian History).
"While the matter is sub-judice before the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay, to circumvent the judicial process and the orders of the Hon'ble Mumbai High Court, the Delhi police at the behest of its Congress MP orchestrated arrests of two Senior Editors of Zee News Channel, Sh Samir Ahluwalia and Sh Sudhir Chowdhary, on the basis of a fraudulent and contrived complaint filed on behalf of his company Jindal Steel and Power Limited.
"The arrests have been made to sensationalize the issue and lend a cover to the coal-gate scam and in particular to favour of Shri Naveen Jindal, Congress MP and his company M/S Jindal Steel and Power Limited."
"This is a crude and direct attack on the freedom of the Press."
"The FIR registered against the two Editors and others, is nothing but a clever attempt to divert attention from its own role in the scam. The channel vehemently denies all allegations levelled against it.
The channel strongly condemns the arbitrary and illegal action of Delhi Police in arresting its two editors and for initiating a malicious, illegal and motivated prosecution. We wish to reiterate that no offence has been committed by members of staff," the statement said.
(With inputs from IANS, PTI)