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Nov 29, 2012 at 08:29am IST

Editors call for media regulation after arrest of Zee News journalists

New Delhi: The arrest of two editors of Zee News Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia has ignited the debate over whether there is a need for regulation of the media. Talking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, editors called for regulation of the media. Press Council Chairman Justice Markandey Katju says Zee's licence should be suspended if charges are found true.

"If there are 40 out of 48 representatives of the media in the media council which I have proposed, then the decision will be by a majority vote and it will be a judgement by your peers," Justice Katju added.

ALSO SEE Jindal extortion case: Zee News editors sent to 2-day police custody

Former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N Ram also said that the media is going through a credibility crisis. "It is true that the media is facing a credibility crisis particularly after the paid news issue came into the fore and many other wrongdoings including rogue practices. And it will be very hard for these two Zee journalists to explain why they were there," N Ram said.

Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, however, said that people of India would not want a government mandated regulator. "I do not agree that people want regulations, people want a regulator and certainly people of India do not want a government mandated regulator. People of India will never accept it," he said.

ALSO SEE Zee promoter Subhash Chandra asked to join probe

Outlook Group Editorial Chairman Vinod Mehta said, "I think there is a very very serious need for external regulation. I think internal self regulation has failed and failed lamentably, atleast television has your national broadcasters association. In the print media, we have absolutely nothing because all editors say that we don't want external self regulation because we can do it ourselves. I've got a corrections page, I've got a clarifications page, and therefore, we don't need it."

A Delhi court on Wednesday sent the two arrested Zee News editors, Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, to two-day police custody in the alleged Jindal extortion case. The police had sought the custody of Sudhir Chaudhary, the head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, to unravel the truth behind the Jindal extortion case. Both the editors were arrested on Tuesday night on the complaint by Congress MP Naveen Jindal's company.

ALSO SEE Zee News calls the arrest of its editors 'illegal'

The duo was arrested after police questioned both the editors in connection with the case and found some inconsistencies in the statements given by them. The Delhi Police Crime Branch on Wednesday also asked Zee Network promoter Subhash Chandra to join the investigation into the extortion claims made by the Jindal Group.

Police told the court that Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee News, and Punit Goenka, MD of the channel, are also accused in the case. It said Chandra was complicit in the demand of money.

Metropolitan Magistrate Gomati Manocha remanded Sudhir Chaudhary, the head of Zee News, and Samir Ahluwalia, head of Zee Business, to police custody till November 30. The police had sought three days custody of both the accused with Additional Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan arguing that their sustained interrogation was necessary to unearth the conspiracy in the case.

The police also said the two editors are accused of demanding Rs 100 crore from Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) in the form of advertisments to the channel. JSPL is among the companies named in the CAG report as one of the beneficiaries of the controversial coal block allocations.

Police told the court that Subhash Chandra, Chairman of Zee News, and Punit Goenka, MD of the channel, are also accused in the case. It said Chandra was complicit in the demand of money.

Both the journalists have been booked under section 384 (extortion), 420 (cheating), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 511 (punishment for attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the IPC.

Earlier during arguments, Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said Chaudhary and Ahluwalia are required to be interrogated to unearth the involvement of Chandra and Goenka in the case. He said the police need to find out the source from which the CAG report, which is the subject matter of dispute between the news channel and the Jindal Group, was obtained.

The prosecutor said the probe agency has evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of the two accused while demanding the money. He said three officials of Jindal Group-- Ravi Mutreja, head of corporate communication of Jindal Group, Sushil Kumar, director in Jindal Group, and Vivek Mittal, senior DGM, were approached by the two editors of the Zee News offering not to broadcast the news reports regarding the alleged involvement of the JSPL in the allocation of coal block scam.

He said the channel had demanded the money in the form of advertisements for a period of five years. "We need their sustained custodial interrogation to unearth the conspiracy and to know the source who had cooked up this idea of alleged extortion of money from the Jindal Group as it is not a single person decision.

"This money was for the whole (Zee) Group so many others are involved behind the conspiracy," he said while accusing Chandra of being complicit in the whole episode. He said the stories aired on their channel regarding the alleged involvement of Jindal Group in coal blocks allocation scam were "concocted" and the probe in the case was on. Mohan submitted that while striking the deal, the two accused had contacted Chandra which reflects his alleged involvement in the case.

The police plea for custody of both the accused was opposed by their advocate Rebecca John who contended that as per the FIR registered by the crime branch on October 2, three persons of Jindal Group had approached Zee News.

"The meeting was at the behest of the complainant and not by us. The alleged tampering of the CAG report is not mentioned in the FIR and it is also not possible for others to fabricate it as it is a government report," she argued.

She further said that the FIR is a "counter blast" to put media on back foot so that no programme could be aired against Jindal Group for their alleged involvement in allocation of coal blocks. John also claimed that the police is acting as a tool for the state by arresting the two mediapersons.

"Whatever happened between the two groups was with the knowledge of both the sides," she said. "Our side was trying to see how far they would go and they wanted to cover their backs," she said.

She also asked the court as to how section 383 of the IPC was applicable on the accused as the provision would come into force when the money is exchanged between the parties whereas in this case, no money has changed hands.

She argued that since both the accused have cooperated with the investigation, their custodial interrogation was not required.

During the hearing, both the accused moved bail pleas arguing that since no money was exchanged between the parties, it was at best a case of putting a person in fear of injury in order to extort money, making it a bailable offence. "When the FIR was lodged, the charge of cheating was not invoked and it was added later on at the behest of powerful people," she said.

The arrests on charges of extortion came following the registration of a case about 45 days ago on a complaint filed by Jindal's company with the Crime Branch of Delhi Police.

Jindal had last month released a CD purportedly showing footage of the Zee journalists trying to strike a deal with his company officials, telling them the channel will not air negative stories of Jindal Group if the money is paid to them.

Chaudhary had rubbished the allegations as "fabrication" and described them as "pressure tactics" to prevent the channel from doing such stories. "We have done a series of stories on coal scam based on official papers. This is a retaliation to our relentless campaign against corruption," he had said.

Jindal Power and Steel Ltd (JPSL) Chairman Naveen Jindal had earlier claimed that the Zee executives had demanded Rs 20 crore for four years and these meetings were secretly filmed. The journalists later raised the demand to Rs 100 crore for not broadcasting stories against the company in relation to allocation of coal blocks, he claimed.

In a retaliatory move, Zee News had last month sent a Rs 150 crore defamation notice to the Congress MP, who too had filed a Rs 200 crore case against the media conglomerate claiming the TV channel had tried to extort money from his company.

(With additional inputs from PTI)

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