The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice on a petition filed by Malayalam TV news channel Media One, questioning a ban on its broadcast imposed by the Centre on grounds of national security. The Malayalam regional channel on news and current affairs had earlier approached the Kerala high court which upheld the ban on March 2.
Posting the matter for hearing to Tuesday, a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath ordered the Centre to produce all relevant files that were relied upon by the high court before passing its order.
The channel, owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, was represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi, Dushyant Dave and Huzefa Ahmadi, who told the apex court that the high court relied on some sealed cover documents submitted by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) that the channel owners were not privy to.
“This is a gross case where a channel with 25 million viewers and more than 350 employees has been shut down without giving any reason. For a regional television channel to survive is difficult. Allow us to start. What will we feed our employees and their families who depend on us?,” the petitioner counsel said.
The channel in its appeal challenging the high court order said the order was passed “behind its back” without giving reasons. On the day when orders were reserved by the high court, the judges had called for files from MHA pertaining to the refusal of security clearance and these files had formed the basis for the high court rejecting the channel’s appeal.
The HC division bench, while dismissing the appeal by the channel management and employees, said, “Certain aspects relating to the security of the state are mentioned to the effect that Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited has some linkages with certain undesirable forces, which is stated to be a security threat”.
Rohatgi said, “The channel had applied for renewal of its uplinking and downlinking licence that was to expire in September last year. The renewal does not require security clearance. Yet the high court relied on it to uphold revocation of the licence.”
Dave told the court, “It is high time this practice must stop. The files submitted by Centre came on the day when order was reserved. We argued that renewal does not need security clearance. In 2019, downlinking permission for the channel was renewed.”
The MHA granted security clearance to the channel in February 2011 following which licence to operate Media One was provided in September 2011 for a 10-year period. After the channel applied for renewal of its licence, it was served a show cause notice by the Centre on January 5 for revoking the permission on the ground of “national security and public order”. On January 31, the permission was revoked.
The channel has lost two successive rounds of challenge against the Centre’s ban — a single judge had upheld the ban on February 8 followed by the division bench on March 2. In February 2020, the channel’s license was briefly suspended by MHA following its coverage of the Delhi riots. Hindustan Times