The extortion complaint filed by one of Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s group companies against broadcaster Zee News came after an ugly public showdown between the two parties around a month ago. Jindal had manhandled a Zee News correspondent on September 10 after the latter stopped him outside a five-star hotel in Delhi and sought a comment on his alleged role in the coal block allocation scam.
Zee News had broadcast a series of reports on the coal block allocations in the last week of August, and named the Jindal, Tata and Darda groups, Manoj Jayaswal of the Abhijeet group and some DMK leaders among others as beneficiaries of the alleged scam.
According to police sources, the HR head of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd has filed a complaint of extortion against Zee News and Zee Business, two news channels owned by listed broadcaster Zee News Ltd.
Police declined to reveal the contents of the complaint, but sources said it alleges that executives of the two news channels had demanded Rs 100 crore as an advertising commitment from the Jindal group in return for dropping an exposé linking it to the alleged coal scam. Zee News has nine news channels, whose total turnover in 2011-12 was Rs 273 crore.
In Zee’s business structure, the editors of all channels are also their business heads, and hence drive both their editorial and business policies. Zee News editor and business head Sudhir Chaudhary, who has been named in the FIR, rubbished the allegations, but said he would not respond officially until he is formally informed about the complaint.
Zee Business editor and business head Samir Ahluwalia, who too has been named in the complaint, did not respond to phone calls.
Jindal group executives refused to speak on the issue.
According to police sources, the complaint says that Zee executives held several meetings with Jindal officials to negotiate the deal. The last such meeting, according to them, was held in a five star hotel in Delhi three weeks ago.
A Zee insider said, “We had sent three emails to Mr Jindal in early September seeking his response to the allegations of wrongful allocation of coal blocks to his companies. We got a response to only one email on September 7. Many questions were still unanswered. Our correspondent, therefore, followed Mr Jindal to get his side of the story. He was instead manhandled by Mr Jindal. We ran the footage for three days in which Mr Jindal is also heard saying ‘Zee News has been showing all rubbish on its channel’.”
The FIR by the JSPL executive was registered with the Anti Extortion Cell of the Crime Branch of Delhi Police on Friday. Police said they had begun a preliminary inquiry.