News4Nation, a Patna-based news website, has been served a legal notice by Saurabh Pandey, 34, an aide to Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan, for defamation and extortion. Pandey has demanded a compensation of Rs 3 crore from the website for the “monetary loss” he incurred because of the alleged “fallacious and fabricated” claims made in a News4Nation report on the aftermath of the Bihar Assembly poll.
Pandey, a Delhi-based lawyer, also alleged that the staffers at the website attempted to extort money from him in return for reducing negative coverage on him — a claim the website has denied.
On November 24, News4Nation published an eight-minute video report by journalist Vivekananda on Pandey’s role as a political aide to the LJP, claiming that he had fled the party’s camp soon after its poor show in the Assembly poll in Bihar last month. The report was titled: “”.
According to the report, the bottom line was that Pandey was the brains behind Paswan’s electoral strategy in the Bihar election. He advised the LJP supremo to take on his allies, specifically chief minister Nitish Kumar. But this strategy flopped, News4Nation said: the LJP won only one seat in the 243-seat state Assembly and Pandey fled the scene.
“Before he dashed off, he dashed the party’s electoral hopes in Bihar,” Vivekanand told his viewers.
Vivekanand, the News4Nation journalist who anchored the report.
The journalist, whose tone throughout the report was conspicuously dramatic and derisive, attributed this information to “trusted sources in LJP”.
“So-called political tantrik Pandey sold pipe dreams to Chirag and first had his father made the president of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit, and then demanded a Rajya Sabha seat for him,” he claimed, adding that the aide had misled and pressured Paswan to contest the Bihar poll outside the National Democratic Alliance.
News4Nation, which has more than eight lakh subscribers on YouTube, garnered nearly 62,000 views on the report.
Saurabh Pandy, 34, is a lawyer and an aide to Chirag Paswan.
The legal notice came the next day.
“My client reserves his right to present evidence which clearly demonstrates your conspiracy to defame him with ulterior motive of distortion,” it said, referring to Pandey. “You must be aware of your illegal demands of money from my client and now, it appears that you are trying to hold Mr Pandey accountable for not bidding to your illegal demands in the past, specifically Mr Vivekanand.”
The notice added that the news website had not cross-checked its claims with Pandey and did not produce any specific evidence to corroborate the allegations made in the report. It concluded with three demands: a compensation of Rs 3 crore due to the purported “loss of opportunity” to Pandey as a lawyer, a written “unconditional apology”, and the removal of the report from the website.
Kaushalendra Priyadarshi, editor and director at News4Nation, told Newslaundry that he had not received the legal notice but learned of it from WhatsApp. “It does not make sense. We only criticised him,” Priyadarshi said. “It was merely a scrutiny. There’s nothing more to it than that.”
Asked whether the website had reached out to Pandey for his comments for the report, the editor reiterated that the report was a “review” based on inputs from political insiders, and did not require Pandey’s comments.
Speaking to Newslaundry, Pandey said that he had a WhatsApp conversation with Vivekanand and phone conversations with other News4Nation employees as evidence of extortion. “They blackmailed me and demanded a bribe, saying that if I don’t pay, they would run negative news against me,” he alleged.
Priyadarshi denied this and asserted that no one at News4Nation had attempted to extort the political aide. “There’s no such thing,” he said tersely. “You should ask him for evidence.”
Pandey, however, refused to share the concerned conversations with this reporter, saying he will only present it before the court when he files a case against the news website.
“During elections, there are websites that try to make money through such means. Their motto is jab tak election, tab tak collection. It is also their business model,” said Pandey, who has worked with Paswan and the LJP for over seven years. “Negative news is fine, but why make it an agenda? People who do this should have their licenses cancelled. They should be booked under the Indian Penal Code. Not just me, but the LJP will also sue him.”
However polished his justifications, Pandey’s legal action has the ingredients of a political figure intimidating a news organisation for inconvenient reportage. But he does not see it this way. “Such journalists need to be taught a lesson: don’t go beyond your rights. What they reported was insulting and humiliating. I am a vigilant citizen and I will not spare them.”
The LJP functionary has claimed that he will move court against News4Nation next week. At the website’s office in Patna, Priyadarshi did not seem bothered. “Let him do it, why eat our brains over it?” he shrugged, and hung up.
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