In a new twist in its case against Zee News, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd on Thursday showed tapes -- purportedly recorded in a sting operation -- alleging that the channel tried to blackmail the company and extort Rs 100 crore for not airing stories against it on coal block allocation.
Amidst dramatic scenes when a family of an RTI activist from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh shouted slogans against him, JSPL Chairman and Congress Member of Parliament 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 a beneficiary of the coal block allocation.
The channel hit back at Jindal by carrying the views of Zee News head Sudhir Chaudhary and Zee Business head Samir Ahluwalia -- who claimed that JSPL was afraid of the "expose" done by it of its involvement in the coal block scam.
The two Zee executives were named by Jindal as the ones who demanded money and met JSPL officials.
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 held 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.
Jindal, whose firm JSPL has filed a criminal case against Zee, also released excerpts of the transcript of the recording. He claimed the company had more "explosive" material against Zee.
The channel claimed that it was trying to trap JSPL through a dummy agreement for the purported deal and was in no way asking for money.
"In fact, JSPL was rattled by our expose and was trying to buy us," Chaudhary said, asking why Jindal did not take questions at the press conference, including from the RTI activist.
He said the major issue remained the CAG report on coal block allocation and the involvement of JSPL.
Later, Chaudhary and Ahluwalia issued a statement, in which they said they "condemn and completely reject" the CD produced by Jindal against them.
"We see this as a deliberate attempt to malign and to defame us," they said.
The two said Zee News has been the forerunner in "exposing" Jindal's "double standard" as a politician and industrialist in the coalgate scam.
"To suppress the coverage that Zee News was telecasting on coalgate, the corporate communications team from JSPL first tried to bribe Samir Ahluwalia with Rs 25 crore which he declined straightaway. This was an offer from JSPL to stop the coverage of 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," the statement claimed.
The executives alleged that Jindal's press conference was a "clear subversion" of the due course of law.
"Clearly we see this as an attempt to prejudice and defame us and to overreach the investigation in this regard," they said, adding they would not be deterred by such "diversionary tactics" and would unravel the ultimate truth in the coalgate scam.