A Delhi court on Wednesday sent two senior editors of the Zee TV channel to two days police custody for allegedly demanding a bribe from the Jindal Group.
The two senior journalists -Sudhir Chaudhry and Samir Ahluwalia-were arrested on Tuesday on charges of trying to extort Rs. 100 crore from the Jindal Group to avoid doing news reports on a coal scam linked to a firm owned by Congress MP and businessman Naveen Jindal.
The Crime Branch of Delhi Police had reportedly sought permission from the court to conduct custodial investigations for three days, but the court granted only two days in connection with an extortion case registered about 45 days ago on a complaint made by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL).
Chaudhary heads the Zee News channel, while Ahluwalia heads the Zee Business channel.
Jindal had last month released a CD in which purportedly showed footage in which Zee journalists were trying to strike a deal with his company officials, telling them that their channel will not air negative stories of the Jindal Group if the money is paid to them.
The journalists have, however, rubbished the allegations as fabrication and described it as pressure tactics to prevent the channel from doing such stories.
JSPL is among the companies named in the CAG report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal block allocations.
Earlier in the day, Zee News CEO Alok Agarwal vehemently denied all the charges against his senior journalists following a "counter sting", and accused Naveen Jindal of trying to divert attention from Coalgate.
"Yesterday on 27th of November, two editors of Zee News Ltd., Sudhir Chaudhary, editor of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, editor Zee Business news, have been illegally arrested. Zee News Ltd. and its journalists strongly condemn the illegal arrest of these two journalists and demand their immediate release," said Agarwal.
"Zee News Ltd. has been raising a fundamental question that Naveen Jindal and his company and affiliates have been prime accused by the CAG, a constitutional body mandated to be a watchdog for all governmental activities. Based on the CAG report, Naveen Jindal and his company and affiliates are under investigation by the CBI," he added.
Agarwal accused Jindal of misusing official machinery, and alleged that the steel tycoon tried to influence Zee News by offering money.
"The fact of the matter is that Jindal is one who offered money, bribe first to the editors and then to the company. He also tried to influence various senior functionaries in Zee News Ltd., not only directly but also through various other people including his elder brother, uncle and some political leaders like Digvijay Singh, General Secretary Congress Party, Raman Singh, Chief Minister Chhattisgarh, Arjun Munda, Chief Minister Jharkhand. All of them requested not to publish stories against Naveen Jindal," he added.
Agarwal also claimed that Jindal"s mother pleaded to play down the Coalgate story.
The CEO of Zee News further said that "in 65 years of democracy in independent India, this is only the second time the media has been censored without putting an official stamp of emergency".
"In the last two years, UPA-II Government has committed mistakes, which have resulted in several questions in the minds of general public," he added.
Jindal earlier today refused to comment on the arrest of two senior journalists of Zee news channel, saying the Delhi Police is investigating this case.
"This is a sub-judice matter. The Delhi Police is investigating this case. So, I do not wish to make any comments," he told mediapersons here. (ANI)