The Kerala High Court today upheld the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s ban on the Malayalam news channel MediaOne. The court dismissed the writ petition filed by Maadhyamam Broadcasting Ltd, the company that runs the channel), which had challenged the union government’s decision.
Having perused the files from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Justice N Nagaresh held that it had found intelligence inputs that justified the denial of security clearance to the channel.
“Going through the files, I find that the ministry has called for intelligence inputs. Based on the intelligence inputs, the committee of officers has found that security clearance should not be given. The Ministry has decided to accept the finding of the Committee of Officers. There are inputs justifying the denial of security clearance. Therefore, I am dismissing the writ petition.”
Justice Nagaresh favoured the continuation of the ban also because the petitioner’s reliance on Supreme Court’s Pegasus judgment was not worthwhile, he said, as it had been rendered in the context of the right to privacy. The judge further said that the Supreme Court’s judgment in the 2019 case Digicable (Network) India Pvt Ltd v Union of India which held that there is no right to a prior hearing when clearance is denied on grounds of national security was more relevant in deciding this case.
“This court is not inclined to interfere with the denial of renewal of the petitioner’s licence. The writ petition fails and is accordingly dismissed”, the order said.
Though Senior Advocate S Sreekumar, the counsel for the channel, requested that the judgment be kept in abeyance for two days to enable the filing of an appeal, the bench did not accept the same.
“I’m not inclined. I understand the situation of the company and the employees, but I cannot extend it (the interim order) even for an hour”, Justice Nagaresh said.
Last week, the court had called for the files from the MHA that had cited security reasons to recommend the ban.
The plea against the ban was filed last week a few hours after the ministry suspended the channel’s telecast citing security concerns. Accordingly, MediaOne, which is owned by Jamaat-e-Islami, went off the air on the same day.
However, upon hearing the preliminary arguments set out by both sides, the court granted the channel an interim relief allowing it to telecast, which was extended on two occasions till today.
In its plea, the channel had contended that it had not involved itself in any sort of anti-national activity and thereby prayed that considering the huge investment involved in the business, the order of the Ministry be withdrawn.
However, the union government had informed the court through a statement that the channel’s license was cancelled due to security reasons, which could not be revealed to the public.
The union government had earlier issued permission enabling the petitioner channel to uplink and downlink TV programmes, and this permission was valid till 29 September 2021.
The union government had served the petitioner a show-cause notice on 5 January, asking why the channel’s licence should not be revoked in consideration of national security and public order. In response to the notice, which was the prelude to the ban, the company had requested not to proceed with the notice without affording an opportunity of hearing and that they were not informed of the reasons why the security clearance was denied.
However, the ministry proceeded to revoke the permission granted to the petitioner with immediate effect, thereby removing the channel from the list of permitted channels. It was alleged that such a “rash” move without affording an opportunity of hearing or informing the particulars of their contravention jeopardised the channel.