Move beyond IPL fever. In this season of lawsuits and counter lawsuits the real match is being played out in the courtrooms.
Since its introduction, and despite recent scandals, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is an unquestionable commercial success with each match drawing millions of passionate viewers. It’s no surprise that with IPL 7 around the corner, news channels are trying to add some IPL-related programming to their line-ups to cash in on the mass hysteria that surrounds the annual event. However, Zee News and News Nation’s enthusiasm to jump on the IPL bandwagon has backfired spectacularly, and now the two media organisations have found themselves on the receiving end of a Rs100 crore lawsuit courtesy Captain Cool himself.
MS Dhoni has filed a Rs 100 crore defamation case against two media houses, Zee Media Corporation and News Nation Pvt. Ltd. Dhoni’s affidavit states that Zee Media Corporation and News Nation Network have allegedly telecast false news reports linking the skipper to the IPL fixing case.
Incidentally, Dhoni’s senior counsel, advocate PS Raman, is one of the vice presidents of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and a close friend of Gurunath Meiyappan , the son-in-law of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief N Srinivasan. Speaking to Newslaundry, Raman said, “The court has restrained Zee and News Nation from airing any report in connection to the skipper’s alleged involvement in the IPL fixing scam for the next two weeks”. Dhoni has implicated two other defendants in the case – Zee News Editor and Business Head, Sudhir Chaudhary and suspended IPS officer, Sampath Kumar. When contacted by Newslaundry, Sudhir Chaudhary declined to comment. Abhay Kumar, a News Nation employee, said that the organisation had not received any information regarding the defamation case and that there was no one from the senior management present in their office on March 18, 2014 to comment on the issue.
Zee Media Corporation has issued a press release denying all charges of false reportage stating that they “have not telecast or shown any footage or dialogue to malign the image of the Indian Skipper”. The organisation has also claimed to have moved the Supreme Court for further clarification on allegations of corruption against Chennai Super Kings.
Dhoni’s alleged links with the IPL match-fixing case first came to light on February 10, 2014 after a report by the Justice Mudgal panel was filed in the Supreme Court. An extract from the report by IPS officer G Sampath Kumar stated that “there was negotiation for match fixing between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings and Meiyappan has communicated to MS Dhoni and few others for finalisation”. Sampath has been under suspension since February 28, 2014 and has been accused of accepting Rs 55 lakh from bookies through financier Mahendar Randak on the pretext of clearing their names in the IPL fixing investigation. Sampath Kumar has refrained from any comment following the defamation suit.
The press release issued by Zee News mentions a series of sting operations titled Pardaphash which were aired between February 24 and February 28, 2014. The sting ops showed Vindu Dara Singh (who had been implicated in IPL spot-fixing, but is now out on bail) and IPS officer G Sampath Kumar candidly discussing spot-and match-fixing with undercover reporters from Zee. Even though Vindu Dara Singh did not implicate MS Dhoni in the IPL scam, Zee News played up the story questioning whether Singh refrained from taking Dhoni’s name in order to remain loyal to someone higher up in the cricketing world.
A close aide of Dhoni said that Zee Media and News Nation have been sued for playing up the story more than any other news organisation.
The courtroom is increasingly becoming a familiar hangout for Zee News with this being the second defamation suit filed against them in under two years, following the Naveen Jindal episode in 2012 which resulted in Zee News being sued for Rs 200 crore. In that case, Zee counter-sued for defamation and the matter is still sub judice. If Zee News lose either case they will not just be counting the costs in terms of money, but also in terms of credibility.
There is a silver lining for Zee News with the channel going past TIMES NOW and ABP in the defamation lawsuit sweepstakes with the latter two currently tied at one lawsuit against each. This seems like one race Arnab Goswami certainly won’t mind losing.