New Delhi: Naveen Jindal, chairman and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL), on Thursday made public video recordings showing an alleged attempt at extortion by editors of the Zee News and Zee Business television stations. The journalists shown in the video said it had been doctored and said that Jindal was seeking to malign them.
The video shows the broadcaster’s editors seeking money from the steelmaker’s employees to black out unfavourable reports on the company related to irregularities in the allotment of captive coal mines by the government.
“Media needs to be above all suspicion. Zee News and Zee Business have endangered the News Broadcasters Association’s norms of journalistic conduct. They have made journalism a weapon for extortion,” Jindal said in New Delhi.
Soon after Jindal’s briefing, Zee News defended itself on microblogging site Twitter by saying, “Naveen Jindal manipulates Press Conf, did not show full picture,” and “Naveen Jindal hides truth, reveals only excerpts of total footage.”
The channel said Jindal had benefited from coalfield allocations. “Jindal is the biggest beneficiary of the CoalBlock Allocations,” it said in another post.
The row underlines the need to reinforce media ethics, said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor, IBN Network.
“It only strengthens the need for a strong, independent media regulator with teeth,” he said. “A regulator who will inquire without fear or prejudice and will have the power to act when needed.”
Jindal distributed CDs of the sting operation and transcripts of the audio. Mint could not independently verify the authenticity of the CD. The video recordings are being investigated by Delhi Police.
Jindal did not take any questions on the expose.
Jindal Steel was driven to make the videos public because Zee was using its television network to mislead people, he said. Zee News’ Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business’ Sameer Ahluwalia anchored a special programme recently, dismissing the allegations against them.
The two defended themselves in a joint press release on Thursday. “We see this as a deliberate attempt to malign and to defame us,” they said. Jindal “chose to display an edited/doctored CD where only selected portions are shown. Mr. Jindal has a history of unfairly targeting those who dare to confront him with the truth.”
Jindal Steel officials had sought to bribe Ahluwalia, they said.
“To suppress the coverage that Zee News was telecasting on Coalgate, corporate communications team from JSPL first tried to bribe Sameer Ahluwalia with Rs.25 crore, which he declined straightway,” they said. “This was an offer from JSPL to stop the coverage of the Coalgate scam. Undeterred, the JSPL team offered Zee News and Zee Business an advertising deal of Rs.100 crore, to somehow stop the coverage on air.”
Jindal Steel, run by the Congress lawmaker, filed a police complaint on 2 October, alleging attempts at extortion by the Zee News editor and other employees in return for taking negative news reports on the company off the air.
Last week, the executive panel of the Broadcast Editors’ Association expelled Chaudhary, editor and business head of Zee News, from the apex body of news channel editors, of which he was the treasurer. His primary membership of the association, a self-regulatory body that seeks to ensure journalistic standards, was cancelled.
The episode reflects on the state of Indian journalism and also the propensity to seek trial by television, said Krishna Prasad, editor, Outlook.
“An early adoption of codes of conduct, the mandatory declaration of assets and liabilities, and above all, institutional checks and balances are imperative,” he said in an email. “Both the accused and the accusers seem to have more faith in the court of public opinion rather than in the court of law. Hit and run is now seemingly legal for both sides.”
The move came after a three-member fact-finding panel found Chaudhary guilty of ethical misconduct in the case. The body on its own took cognizance of news reports regarding the allegations of extortion against Zee News made by Jindal.
The association “has relied on the false, malicious, and distractive propaganda unleashed by Naveen Jindal against me,” Chaudhary said in his defence at the time.
The two journalists said Jindal’s Thursday press conference was a subversion of the due process of law as “similar false allegations” were made by him and his officials in a police complaint.
“Clearly, we see this as an attempt to prejudice and defame us and to overreach the investigation in this regard,” they said.