A Trial Court in Delhi has denied bail to two Zee News editors, Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia who were arrested on charges of extortion, for the second time in a week on a complaint filed by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL).
Is this a case where the court wants to set a precedent and thereby send a strong message to media groups? Or has JSPL, one of the beneficiaries of coal block allocation, according to a CAG report, been successful in diverting media attention by doing, what it calls a ‘reverse sting’?
Rebecca John, the lawyer for Zee News editors, told Firstpost that the offence against her clients was not made out as per the law and their arrest was unwarranted. “I find it deeply disappointing that the police can be manipulated at a time when it is already so overworked,” she said.
“There is a clear case of manipulation by a sitting Congress MP,” she said, clearly in reference to Naveen Jindal, Chairman and Managing Director of JSPL.
Delhi Police has booked Zee News editor Sudhir Chawudhary and Zee Business head Sameer Ahluwailia under IPC 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).
During the first hearing on the bail plea of the journalists on November 28, the court relied on police testimony which sensed a conspiracy and wanted time for a sustained interrogation of the two. Public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan had said that police had to know the source of the CAG report, based on which Zee News aired stories related to coal block allocation.
“This is the preliminary stage of investigation and the accused have been arrested only after the authenticity of the audio video recording has been verified by the CFSL (Central Forensic Science Laboratory),” ruled metropolitan magistrate Gomati Manocha.
On December 3, the court rejected their bail for the second time ruling that the two journalists could not produce any fresh ground for their release on bail.
Senior Supreme court lawyer K T S Tulsi said court has to set example in cases where journalists are found guilty of tarnishing the image of a public figure. “Your reputation is as important as your life. If you are determined to damage someone’s reputation, it is as big a crime as murder,” said he.
“If the allegations are true, this is would turn out to be the worst case of media crime. Court has to give full opportunity to the police to unearth the conspiracy. All the leads left by these journalists have to be checked and it cannot be done if the journalists are released,” he added.