The bail pleas of two Zee News channel editors, arrested for allegedly trying to extort Rs 100 crore from a Congress MP Naveen Jindal's group firm for not telecasting reports linking it to coal block allocation scam, were dismissed on Monday by a Delhi court.
Metropolitan Magistrate Rajinder Singh dismissed the bail pleas saying Zee News head Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business Editor Samir Ahluwalia have not given any new ground for their release on bail in the fresh application after dismissal of their first ones on November 28.
"Investigation is at a preliminary stage and there is no change of facts and circumstances since November 28 and the bail application had been dismissed by the duty magistrate earlier on November 28....and no fresh ground have come up to release them on bail. Hence, in my considered opinion, the bail (plea) is dismissed," the court said.
"The dismissal of bail application does preclude the accused from moving successive bail applications," it added.
During the hearing on the bail applications, Special Public Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan argued that the accused persons have no right to move a fresh bail plea as their similar applications had been dismissed by a magistrate on November 28 when they were first remanded in police custody for two days.
Mohan argued the two editors should not be given bail as they were involved in criminally extorting money from Jindal Steel and Power Limited and have also abused the freedom of speech and expression granted to the press under Article 19 of the Constitution.
He said the accused have already filed their bail plea under section 437 of CrPC at an earlier stage and therefore, the second bail plea is not maintainable and should be dismissed.
He said they have been booked for non-bailable offences and hence cannot be released on bail.
Advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Zee editors, vehemently opposed the prosecutor's arguments saying there is absolutely no embargo that stops her from seeking bail for her clients under any provisions of the CrPC.
"I have full right to move court for bail as the law is bail not jail," she said adding the agency is doing an "absurd" job by opposing the bail on such grounds.
She said, "The CAG report which was aired by Zee news was a constitutional body report tabled in the Parliament. As a channel editor of Zee group, it was my client's responsibility to put forth the truth."
John said that the editors had decided to run news showing Jindal's firm's alleged involvement in the allocation of coal blocks only as per the findings of the CAG report.
"As a journalist, it was my editor's right to show the corruption, was it a police right to register an FIR against them?," she asked.
"I (Zee editors) did pick and choose, does it become a criminal offence?," she said and added, "Has the CAG raised objection that we have shown a false report? It is not like that, we did our job."
She argued that it was Jindal's representative who had met the Zee editors for the deal and they themselves had never went up to them.
She told the court that this can be inferred from the e-mail received by Sudhir Chaudhary, in which JSPL officials had asked for the advertisement agreement as soon as possible.
She said she failed to understand as to who had been induced and who had been put under fear in the whole episode, adding there is no prima facie evidence to book them under extortion as there was no exchange of money.
Seeking bail for the two editors, the counsel said they have been booked for offences, which carry a maximum jail term of one and a half year.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Ramesh Gupta, who appeared for Jindal group, told the court that the Zee Group editors had charged Rs 25 crore per annum from the Jindal firm for advertisement, where as officially they take Rs 2.5 Crore per year for the same.
"Was it not a case of extortion?" Gupta told the court.
He told the court that Zee head Subhash Chandra is also involved in the whole episode, to which Zee group's lawyer raised objections saying, "How is it possible that Jindal's counsel has access to the police documents, which are highly confidential?"
She said, "It means that the Jindal's representative are also sitting in the investigation with the police.
Jindal has alleged that Zee News had tried to extort Rs 100 crore in exchange for not airing stories linking his group firms to the coal block allocation scam.
Jindal had released a video-recording of meetings with executives of Zee TV and claimed it to be the proof that they were trying to extort money from him.
Jindal said the news channel told his firm's executives that if they did not spend Rs 100 crore on advertising, the channel would run negative stories on allocation of coal fields to his firm.
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.
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.
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.