SC lifts telecast ban on MediaOne
Says critical views can’t be termed anti-establishment
The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the Centre’s telecast ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne, and pulled up the Ministry of Home Affairs for raising national security claims from “thin air” without facts.
Observing that the State can’t impose unreasonable restrictions on the press as it would have a chilling effect on press freedom, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud set aside the Kerala High Court order which had upheld the Centre’s decision to ban the channel’s telecast on security grounds.
The top court said critical views of the channel against government policies cannot be termed as anti-establishment as an independent press is necessary for a robust democracy.
“Press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction. The restriction on freedom of press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. “Homogenised views on issues that range from socio-economic polity to political ideologies would pose great dangers to democracy,” the bench said, adding that non-renewal of license for a channel is a restriction on the right to freedom of speech.
The top court said the alleged link of the channel’s shareholders to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is not a legitimate ground to restrict the rights of the channel.
It said the State is using national security as a tool to deny citizens remedies that are provided under the law.
“National security claims cannot be made out of thin air, there must be material facts backing it,” the bench said.
Non-disclosure of reasons for denial of security reasons and disclosure only to court in sealed cover has violated principles of natural justice, the bench, also comprising Justice Hima Kohli, said.
“Sealed cover procedure cannot be introduced to cover harms that cannot be remedied by public immunity proceedings,” the bench said.
The apex court said courts should appoint an amicus curiae to assess the claims of confidentiality and assist the court in coming out with a reasoned order.
The top court was hearing the plea of the news channel against the Kerala High Court’s order which had upheld the Centre’s decision to ban its telecast on security grounds.
The top court had on March 15, in an interim order, stayed until further directions the January 31 directive of the Centre revoking the licence of the news channel and banning its telecast on security grounds.
It had said the news and current affairs channel would continue its operations as it was operating prior to the ban of the telecast.
The top court had passed the order after perusing the files filed by the Centre on the basis of which security clearance was revoked and the Kerala High Court had passed the order upholding the ban on the telecast.
It had left the question open on whether the content of files on the basis of which the ban order was passed be given to the channel to enable it to defend itself.
The Kerala High Court had upheld the Centre’s decision to bar the telecast of the Malayalam news channel and dismissed the plea of Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd — which operates MediaOne — challenging the central government’s January 31 decision.
The high court had said the decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to deny security clearance was based on intelligence inputs received from various agencies.
The channel had contended that MHA clearance was only required at the time for fresh permission/licence and not at the time of renewal.
It had 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