New Delhi: Media group Zee Network on Wednesday said the arrests of two senior journalists of Zee News channel over charges of trying to extort Rs 100 crore from Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal by manipulating their reportage on the alleged coal block allocation scam, were 'illegal'.
Zee News said the arrests were an attempt by the 'Congress-led government' to gag the media.
"After 65 years of independence, the present Congress-led government is pushing the media to not speak the truth and to gag it. It is practically the Emergency revisited in India on November 27, 2012, a day that will also be known as a black day in Indian history," read a Zee News statement.
"While the matter is sub-judice before the honourable High Court of Bombay, to circumvent the judicial process and the orders of the honourable High Court, the Delhi Police, at the behest of a Congress MP, orchestrated the arrests of two senior editors of Zee News, Samir Ahluwalia and Sudhir Chowdhary, on the basis of a fraudulent and contrived complaint filed on behalf of his company, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL)," the statement said.
"The arrests have been made to sensationalise the issue and to lend a cover to the coal scam and in particular to favour Naveen Jindal, Congress MP, and his company JSPL," it said.
Zee News said: "The first information report (FIR) registered against the two editors and others is nothing but a clever attempt to divert attention from JSPL's own role in the coal scam, which was exposed by the CAG and is being investigated by the CBI."
"The channel vehemently denies all allegations levelled against it. The channel strongly condemns the arbitrary and illegal action of the Delhi Police in arresting its two editors and for initiating a malicious, illegal and motivated prosecution. We wish to reiterate that no offence has been committed by members of the Zee News staff," it said.
Attacking Jindal, Alok Agarwal, the Chief Executive Officer of Zee News, said the Congress MP tried to bribe the channel's executives.
"The fact is that Naveen Jindal tried to bribe first the executives and then the Zee Channel not to publish the story," Agarwal said while addressing a press conference on Wednesday.
"We raised key issues relating to coal block allocations. Instead on answering queries of Zee News team, Naveen Jindal decided to file FIR," Agarwal said.
"This was an act of political pressure. The police are being forced to act on the matter under pressure from Naveen Jindal and his associates," he said.
The arrests of Sudhir Chaudhary, the head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, the head of Zee Business, on Tuesday came on charges of extortion came following the registration of a case around 45 days ago on a police complaint filed by Jindal's company.
Last month Zee News said it had filed a Rs 150 crore defamation suit against Jindal for the “unsubstantiated and defamatory allegations”, in a counter-punch to the latter’s Rs 200 crore case against the private broadcaster.
While Zee’s suit came following an expose by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) that published purported audio-video evidence of an attempt to extort money in return of quashing negative reportage, Jindal had sued the news channel over the same issue.
Zee News has denied accusations levelled by Jindal that the private broadcaster had tried to blackmail him.