New Delhi: Zee News on Wednesday described the arrest of its two editors - Sudhir Chaudhary (Zee News) and Samir Ahluwalia (Zee Business) - in connection with case related with exposure of coal scam as illegal and demanded their immediate release.
Addressing a press conference at the Constitution Club here, Zee News CEO Alok Agrawal said it is for the second time in 65 years of Independent India that the media has been gagged.
“Zee News Limited condemns the illegal arrests of its two editors and demands their immediate release,” Mr Agrawal said.
Mr Agrawal noted that Congress MP Naveen Jindal and his company Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) are prime accused in the coal allocation scam, as per the report of government auditor CAG.
Mr Agrawal highlighted that the channel, as a part of free press, had raised fundamental questions about coal blocks allocated to Jindal Group. 25% of coal block allocations had been sanctioned to Jindals causing a loss of Rs 45,000 crore to the exchequer.
He further reiterated that Naveen Jindal is the prime accused in the coal scam.
Zee News representatives including lawyer RK Handoo said that when the channel put the focus on CAG report, Jindal group started to attack them and alleged that its editors had asked for money to bury stories.
“The truth is that Jindals offered bribe to us and then started to exert pressure,” the Zee News CEO said, adding, “He also used channels of Digvijaya Singh, Arjun Munda and Raman Singh to exert pressure and stop the coverage.”
Mr Agrawal revealed that Naveen Jindal’s mother Mrs Savitri Jindal had met one of the Zee group promoters Mr Jawahar Goel and put emotional pressure on him to withdraw Coalgate stories citing four-generation old family ties. “We had stopped the broadcast of stories and asked Jindal group to provide us their version. However, rather than responding, they filed an FIR.”
Zee News representatives said they had been cooperating in the case with the authorities all throughout and felt there was no justification for the sudden arrests.
“We sympathise with the Delhi Police who know there is no case against Zee officials but still had to act against them,” Mr Agrawal said.
“If we take just five minutes of a conversation stretching over hours, then it can be made to look incriminating,” he added.
The Zee News CEO said the channel has never denied that conversations took place between Zee Editors and Jindal Group officials.
Handoo further asked, “Has any money been paid? If not, then how can it be termed as extortion?”
Handoo said the conversation between Zee Editors and JSPL officials is 5 to 6 hours long. “If you cut it to 15 minutes, then it can be presented it in any way,” he added.
The senior lawyer wanted to know from the police why the arrests have been made on November 27, almost two months after the case was registered on October 2.
According to the lawyer, the CFSL report on the taped conversation is not a conclusive evidence.
Zee News also described the arrests as a crude attack on the freedom of the press.