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Zee journalists sent to two days' police custody

Posted on Nov 28, 09:26PM | IANS

A Delhi court Wednesday sent two Zee News journalists to two days' police custody. They were arrested on an extortion complaint filed by Congress MP Naveen Jindal's company, Jindal Power and Steel Ltd.

Metropolitan Magistrate Gomti Manocha sent the duo to two days' custody of Crime Branch of Delhi Police till Nov 30 and dismissed their bail plea.

Delhi Police had sought three days' custody of the journalists to interrogate them, and said that while reporting on the matter, the Zee News misreported facts and "there was an element of deception involved".

Sudhir Chaudhary, head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, were arrested here Tuesday on charges of attempting to extort Rs.100 crore from Jindal Power and Steel Ltd. in exchange for not filing news reports linking the firm to the irregular coal blocks allocation.

The Jindal Group filed an extortion complaint against them.

Police booked both the journalists under Sections 384 (extortion), 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Before arresting Chaudhary and Ahluwalia Tuesday, police also charged them under Section 420 (cheating).

During the hearing, advocate Rebecca John appearing for the journalists told the court that both were innocent and respectable individuals. Counsel denied the allegations made by the Jindal Group that they attempted to extort Rs.100 crore from the company.

She added: "Money was never involved in the case and there was no deal. Where is the crime?"

John told the court that the meeting between the Jindal Power and Steel Ltd. (JPSL) officials and the two journalists was held only because the company's officials had called both the journalists, and her clients had not made any deal with JPSL.

Public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said that police had video and audio recordings as evidence against the journalist demanding money from Jindal Group.

Both journalists are accused of demanding Rs.100 crore from Jindal Group in the form of advertisments to the channel in exchange for not filing news reports linking his firm to the coal blocks allocation.

Jindal last month released a CD which purportedly showed footage in which the Zee journalists were trying to strike a deal with his company officials, telling them that their TV news channel would not air negative stories on Jindal Group if the money was paid to them.

Jindal, who is chairman of JPSL, 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 the allocation of coal blocks, Jindal alleged.

JPSL is among the companies named in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal blocks allocation.

Zee News last month sent a Rs.150 crore defamation notice to the Congress MP, who too had filed a Rs.200 crore suit against the media conglomerate, claiming that the TV channel had tried to extort money from his company.

However, Zee News chief executive officer Alok Agarwal at a press conference defended its journalists saying, "Our executives' arrest is illegal. We strongly condemn arrests of our two executives."

Agarwal also alleged that police were being forced to pursue the matter against them and make illegal arrests.