The arrests came eight weeks after Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) filed an FIR on October 2, alleging that the Zee executives had demanded Rs 100 crore in committed advertising from JSPL in return for dropping an investigation launched by their two channels on the alleged undue benefits accrued to Jindal in the allocation of coal blocks by the UPA government.
Zee issued a statement “vehemently denying all allegations levelled against it”, and strongly protesting the “crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press”.
JSPL had accused the Zee group, Chaudhary and Ahluwalia of criminal conspiracy, intimidation and defamation, and alleged that Zee group chairman Subhash Chandra and his son Puneet Goenka were part of the conspiracy.
JSPL had also given police video and audio recordings of at least three meetings between JSPL officials and Chaudhary and Ahluwalia on September 13, 17 and 19 in Delhi’s Hyatt Regency hotel.
Police said on Tuesday that Chaudhary and Ahluwalia were arrested after forensic analysis showed that the video and audio clips had not, as the two journalist-executives had alleged, been “edited” or “doctored”.
SBS Tyagi, deputy commissioner of police (Crime Branch), said, “Chaudhary and Ahluwalia have been arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy and extortion. The case was registered with the anti-extortion cell of the Crime Branch after the HR head of Jindal’s company gave a written complaint.”
When contacted, Zee News Ltd CEO Alok Agrawal said, “I have heard about the arrests. All I can say is it is the saddest day for the Indian media after the Emergency.”
In its statement, Zee 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...
“While the matter is sub judice... to circumvent the judicial process and the orders of the Hon’ble Mumbai High Court, the Delhi Police at the behest of (the) Congress MP orchestered arrests of two senior editors... on the basis of a fraudulent and contrived complaint filed on behalf of his (Jindal’s) company...
“This is a crude and direct attack on the freedom of the press... The complainant, Jindal Steel and Power Limited, is using the 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... sought to highlight in public interest...
“The channel vehemently denies all allegations levelled against it (and) strongly condemns the arbitary and illegal action of Delhi Police... and for initiating a malicious, illegal and motivated prosecution. We wish to reiterate that no offence has been committed by members of (Zee) staff.”
Zee News bulletins on Tuesday focused on the arrests and repeatedly showed a clip of Jindal slapping a Zee News cameraman on September 10.