New Delhi: The demand for an independent inquiry on the media has grown after Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal released a video accusing Zee TV of extortion. Jindal did a reverse sting operation on Zee TV, showing the media giant demanding advertising commitments in exchange of burying negative coverage on Jindal's company.
Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju said, "Let an independent statutory body monitor the media, which I have been constantly suggesting." Columnist Swapan Dasgupta also added, "You're in a situation where the profession is being denigrated, the good is being lumped with the bad, between the bad and the criminal, there is sometimes no difference and what are we as journalists doing about it?"
Former Editor of The Hindu N Ram sad that the media needed a high powered investigation "In my opinion, it needs a high powered investigation, perhaps by a retired Supreme Court judge, perhaps of the caliber of Lord Justice Leveson in the UK because whatever is going to come out of it is tremendous education for the public. I think it has to be set up by a constitutional authority may be the Government of India, but there should be no choice for the journalists or proprietors, they have to come and justify."
There was high drama at Jindal's press conference on Thursday over a sting operation by Zee TV on the Congress leader. Jindal hit back at Zee TV with a reverse sting operation, accusing the network of extortion. "It was done with a genunie motive to expose Zee and its blackmailing and extortionist tactic. We were really shocked. We have been in business for nearly 40 years. We have never been approached by the media at the gun point that we just shell out money and they were talking about big money, Rs 100 crore," Jindal said in an interview with IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai.
Jindal released a video at the press conference showing Zee Business Editor Sameer Ahluwalia demanding money from Jindal's company, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, for stopping the sting operation from being aired. Jindal has filed a criminal case against Zee TV for alleged extortion.
Amidst dramatic scenes when a family of an RTI activist from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh shouted slogans against him, JSPL Chairman and Congress MP Naveen Jindal said the Zee executives demanded Rs 20 crore for four years. They later raised the demand to Rs 100 crore for not broadcasting stories against the company in relation to allocation of coal blocks, he claimed. JSPL is one of the companies named in the CAG report as one of the beneficiaries of the coal block allocation without auction.
Zee News has hit back saying, "We had been running stories against Naveen Jindal, so he has hit back at us. Jindal's men approached us and offered us a bribe to stop running stories against him. (Our) editors met Jindal's representatives with a dummy contract."
Jindal said JSPL conducted the 'reverse sting' operation between September 13 and September 19 at different locations in Delhi to expose the channel's extortion bid. The recording was done during the meetings between Chaudhary and Ahluwalia with JSPL officers. Jindal described the behaviour of the channel representatives as "shameful blackmailing" and in violation of journalistic norms and principles set up by the News Broadcasters Association.
Jindal, whose firm JSPL has filed a criminal case against ZEE, also released excerpts of the transcript of the recording. He claimed there was more "explosive" material available with the company against Zee. Instead the channel claimed that it was its own attempt to trap JSPL through a dummy agreement for the purported deal and was in no way trying to ask for money.
"In fact,JSPL was rattled by our expose and was trying to buy us," Chaudhary said, while wondering why Jindal did not take questions at the press conference including from the RTI activist. He said the big issue still remained the CAG report on coal block allocation and the involvement of JSPL.
The big questions
- Does the Jindal expose of Zee editors seriously dent the reputation of the media?
- Should editors have been sent out on business assignments by Zee TV management?
- Is the expose a strategy by Jindal to force Zee to stop coverage of the coal scam?
(With additional information from PTI)
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