After months of being on the receiving end, Naveen Jindal, chairman, Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL) and Congress leader from Haryana, lashed out at Subhash Chandra-promoted news broadcaster Zee News Ltd and alleged that it was into "extortion " and "blackmailing" corporates.
Jindal played a video clipping to a packed media gathering in support of his company’s allegation that Zee News demanded Rs 100 crore from JSPL in exchange for stopping airing news stories targeting the company.
JSPL has already filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the Anti-Extortion Cell of the Crime Branch of Delhi Police making allegations of extortion, intimidation and defamation against Zee News. JSPL has alleged Zee News’ Editor Sudhir Chaudhary offered to drop the channel’s campaign against JSPL for a Rs 100-crore advertising deal.
Jindal announced that he was forced to expose Zee News, despite the ongoing police investigation, as the news channel continued to air reports against JSPL since 19 October after his company refused to sign the deal.
“This is a never-before attempt of extortion and blackmail against us. And we have decided not to succumb to pressure,” said a visibly-charged Jindal. “There are many victims like us. But for the first time in the country’s history, a corporate has decided to expose the truth,” he added.
The video clippings showed meetings of JSPL representatives with Chaudhary and Zee Business Editor Samir Ahluwalia. A transcript of the video clipping played by Jindal quoted Chaudhary as saying to the JSPL representative, “The biggest gain is that there is no further damage.” It also quoted Ahluwalia as saying, “We should at least earmark a spending of 25 crore for four years on our entire group..the proposal which I have.”
In a press release issued after the press conference, Zee said Naveen Jindal has presented "farcical evidence" in an attempt to divert attention from demand for independent probe in the Coalgate scam.
"We have been the forerunner in exposing Naveen Jindal’s double standard as a politician and industrialist in Coalgate scam. To suppress the coverage that Zee News was telecasting on Coalgate, Corporate Communications team from JSPL first tried to bribe Samir Ahluwalia with Rs 25 crore, which he declined straightway. This was an offer from JSPL to stop the coverage of Coalgate scam. Undeterred, the JSPL team offered Zee News and Zee Business and advertising deal of Rs.100 crore, to somehow stop the coverage on air," said Sudhir Chaudhary, editor, Zee Business and Samir Ahluwalia, editor, Zee News in a joint statement. They said there was a deliberate attempt to malign and defame them.
They termed Jindal's press conference as a "subversion of the due process of law" since the company has filed a police complaint. The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA), a body representing TV news channels, had earlier stripped Chaudhary of its primary membership based on the findings of a probe by a three-member committee. The panel had submitted its report after looking at the evidences submitted by JSPL including the audio and video clippings of meetings between JSPL representatives and Zee News journalists.
The Comptroller and Auditor general of India (CAG) in its report tabled in Parliament on 17 August had accused the government of extending undue financial gains totalling Rs 1.86 lakh crore to private companies by not allocating coal blocks through bidding. The CAG had named 57 blocks allotted since 2004 in its report. It covered four blocks of JSPL -- Jitpur, Amarkonda Murgadangal, Gare Palma IV/6 and Ramchandi Promotional Block. A news report had last month said that Jindal Power Ltd (JPL), a subsidiary of JSPL, despite having cheap coal from Gare Palma IV/2 and Gare Palma IV/3 mines, sold power at the high prices of Rs 4.30 per unit in 2010-11 and Rs 3.85 per unit in 2011-12. Reacting to the report, Jindal had clarified that the success of JPL is attributed to efficient planning, implementation and operations and not cheap coal.