The Kerala High Court on Wednesday, February 2, asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to file an affidavit by February 7, submitting the reasons for denying security clearance to the popular Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV. The High Court bench of Justice N Nagaresh also extended its interim order staying the ban on the channel till Monday, and has allowed MediaOne TV to be telecast till then.
The Kerala High Court was hearing the channel’s plea against the decision of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to stop broadcast of the channel. The I&B Ministry had said that the security license of Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, which runs MediaOne TV, was not renewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Union government told the Kerala High Court court that the MHA denied security clearance to MediaOne over national security concerns based on intelligence inputs.
When Justice Nagaresh sought the reasons for denying security clearance, Additional Solicitor General S Manu, who appeared for the Union government, said that they have submitted a sealed cover with information. The court pointed out that though complete details have not been revealed, the Union government should give a basic reason to deny security clearance to the channel.
The channel, on the other hand, contended that MHA clearance was only required at the time for fresh permission or issuance of license and not at the time of renewal of license. The counsel for the channel submitted to the court that the procedure adopted by the Union government for barring the telecast of the channel was illegal.
During the hearing, when the court asked what were the reasons for the denial of security clearance by MHA, the Union government said it was not bound to disclose the same to the media group when national security concerns were there.
“Why was security clearance denied? What is your (Union government’s) objection? Any issue with any of the directors or the news broadcast by them?” the court asked.
The Union government, in reply, said the court can peruse the information placed before it in the sealed cover and can also call for the relevant files, if required, but the same cannot be disclosed publicly. The Union government further said it was not required to provide reasons for denial of security clearance as per a Supreme Court judgment which, according to the Union government, stated that where national security was concerned broadcast permissions can be revoked or cancelled without giving any prior notice or reasons.
The Union government said that after denial of security clearance by MHA, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had issued a show cause notice to the channel.
“What is the point of show cause notice if you will not give the reasons (for denial of security clearance)?” the court asked, to which the government lawyer responded it was not bound to give reasons as per the Apex court judgement.
The Union government also contended that MIB followed all the procedures laid down in the requisite guidelines and further said permission to broadcast of the channel had expired on September 29, 2021.
The contentions of the Union government were opposed by the channel whose lawyers said that the guidelines were being interpreted incorrectly by the Union government.
MediaOne’s lawyers, referring to the SC orders in the Pegasus case, said that mere saying of national security cannot be a reason for denial of permission. They also contended that, according to the uplinking and downlinking guidelines, security clearance was only required at the time of application for fresh permission and not at the time of renewal of licence.
Therefore, the procedure adopted by MIB and MHA in the instant case was illegal, they claimed.
“They (Union government) need to explain, at least to this court, how the security of the nation was at threat or is breached by the telecast of the channel,” MediaOne’s lawyers argued.
The Union government had barred telecast of the channel on January 31 and within hours of the same, the channel challenged it in the high court which put the order on hold for two days. MediaOne is a popular news channel in Kerala, and is well known for their talk shows and journalism. The channel is reportedly owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited; many of the investors are members of the Kerala chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami.
In its plea before the High Court,, the channel had contended that it was not involved in any anti-national activity warranting such a bar on its operations.
This is not the first time the channel has faced such a bar on its operation. MediaOne, along with another Malayalam News channel, Asianet, was briefly suspended for 48 hours over their coverage of communal violence in Delhi in 2020, with the official orders saying they covered the violence in a manner that “highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community.” The News Minute