NEW DELHI: Congress MP and Jindal Steel chairmanNaveen Jindal produced purported evidence to back his company’s claim that a news channel has been attempting to blackmail and extort money from the publicly traded company, at an unusual news conference on Thursday.
Jindal, a two-time MP from Kurukshetra, released a tape that he claimed was footage of a ‘sting operation’ his company conducted on representatives of Zee News and Zee Business channels.
He claimed that the channels have been trying to ‘extort’ money from the company in return for discontinuing negative coverage of the company in a recent controversy surrounding allocation of coal blocks.
“When they understood that we will not agree to their demand, we will not give then 100 crore and will not sign the agreement, they started the Galat Prachaar (slander campaign) from September 24. When they started it again, then our board of directors called a meeting and took a decision that we need to raise our voice against this kind of blackmailing and extortion,” Jindal said.
On October 2, Jindal Steel filed a criminal complaint with the Delhi Police against Zee News, naming Zee groupchairman Subhash Chandra and MD Punit Goenka. According to media reports, the executives have been named co-accused in the FIR that accuses Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, who head Zee News and Zee Business, respectively, of “criminal conspiracy, extortion, criminal intimidation and defamation.”
At the press conference, Jindal screened a 13-minute edited tape that appears to show meetings between Jindal Steel officials and Zee News’ Chaudhary and Ahluwalia. Jindal also distributed CDs and transcripts of the video. In the video, the two editors and Jindal officials are ‘discussing an agreement’ and there is a lot of talk of ‘working together’, ‘proposal’, ‘relationship’ and “spending of 20 crore for 4 years on our entire group.” ET has not independently verified the tape or the transcript.
In a statement, Chaudhary and Ahluwalia rejected Jindal’s allegations as a ‘divertionary tactic’. “We see this as a deliberate attempt to malign and to defame us… In pursuit of seeking truth in the coalgate scam, we have had several interactions with Jindal and with his officials. His chose to display an edited/ doctored CD where only selected portions are shown,” the two said in a statement posted on the Zee News website.
A spokesperson for the Zee Group did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
There was high drama at the press conference at one stage, as family members of an RTI activist from Chhattisgarh shouted slogans against the steel company. Jindal claimed that Zee News had spearheaded what he described as a ‘defamation campaign’ against him and his company’s involvement in the so-called coal scam. Jindal Steel is among the companies named by the government’s chief auditor as having benefitted from ‘windfall gains’ due to the government’s policy of allocating coal blocks during 2004-2009.
Jindal claimed that when his company’s officials sought a meeting with Zee news editors, Ahluwalia and Chaudhary, who also double up as business heads of the respective channels, presented a proposal that they would discontinue negative coverage if the company agreed to spend 25 crore over four years to advertise in the channel. At a subsequent meeting, Jindal claimed, the demand was raised to 100 crore over four years.
“A news channel gets its licence from the government for showing news and not for extortion or blackmail… And this is the first time that any corporate has come out and exposed anyone. I feel that many of you journalists are fearless and you will take the truth and take it to the public, as there are many such victims, many people are blackmailed like this,” Jindal said. Following a complaint from Jindal, the Broadcast Editors Association last week removed Chaudhary from its membership.
Courtesy : http://www.economictimes.com