Zee News on Wednesday demanded the immediate release of its two senior journalists arrested in an extortion case filed by Congress MP Naveen Jindal, alleging that the police action was "illegal" and "designed for something else".
Denying allegations of attempt to extort Rs 100 crore from Jindal Power and Steel Ltd for not airing news reports linking the company to the coal block allocation scam, Zee News CEO Alok Agrawal accused the UPA-II of "intimidating" the media because of its "mistakes".
Sudhir Chaudhary, the head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, were arrested last night on the complaint by Jindal's company filed in October.
Questioning the arrests and its timing, Agrawal and Zee lawyer R K Handoo said the detentions were deliberately made before a holiday so that regular bail could be denied. Handoo said that the arrest has been made under a section which speaks of a non-bailable offence and not a bailable offence.
"What was the need for the arrest. It was designed for something else. It is a nefarious gameplan," Handoo said.
Agrawal claimed that it was the Congress MP who offered money as bribe to Zee editors first and then to the company.
Jindal also tried to influence several senior Zee functionaries not only directly but also through various people, including his brother Prithvi Jindal, uncle Sitaram Jindal and political leaders like Digivjay Singh, Raman Singh and Arjun Munda, Agrawal alleged claiming they also requested them not to air stories against Jindal.
Agrawal said Jindal and Zee officials had a total conversation of six hours over half a dozen meetings and if any one was to take out only five per cent of these conversations "it can be distorted in any manner".
On his part, Jindal today refused to comment on the developments saying, "the matter is subjudice. Delhi Police is investigating the matter. I am not commenting on this."
However, when asked about the release of 14 minutes of conversation between him, his officials and Zee functionaries, Jindal said the tapes were examined by the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory and everything would be in public domain.
Queried whether the sting operation by his company was intended to divert attention from his company's alleged involvement in coal block allocation scam, he shot back, "okay, you don't divert your attention."
On the timing of the arrest, Handoo said while the FIR was filed on October 2, the arrests were made yesterday at a time when the two editors were at the "beck and call" of police and cooperating in investigations.
"Police say they have the forensic report. Then why don't they file chargesheet directly. What is the need for arrest?In normal case, they would not have been arrested," he claimed.
Agrawal said, "we have never denied a conversation. Therefore a CFSL forensic report confirming the CD's veracity was a foregone conclusion. So why the arrest when both of them were fully cooperating with the investigations from the beginning."