A division bench of the Kerala High Court on Thursday reserved its order and refused to grant an interim stay on the single-judge bench verdict to uphold the Union government’s ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV, Live Law reported.

The news channel had gone off air on January 31 after the Centre suspended its telecast citing “security reasons”. The channel is reported to be backed by members of the Kerala unit of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Jamaat-e-Islami is a socio-religious political organisation that the Centre had declared an “unlawful association” for five years for activities “prejudicial to internal security and public order” in 2019.

On February 2, the single judge bench of Justice N Nagaresh had held that inputs from the home ministry files that recommended the cancellation of security clearance of the channel justified the decision.

On Wednesday, Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, which operates MediaOne TV, and some of the channels employees and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists filed separate appeals against the decision in the Kerala High Court. The appeal was taken up on Thursday by a division bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly.

In its appeal, Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited said that “threat to national security” was cited as a “ruse” to cancel the channel’s licence, reported The Indian Express.

The appeal cited the Supreme Court’s observation at a hearing of the Pegasus spyware case in October. The court had observed that the government could not get a “free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised”. The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of petitions alleging the use of the spyware for unauthorised surveillance of Opposition leaders, activists and journalists.

“National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning,” the Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited appeal quoted from the Supreme Court judgement.

The appeal also said that the order of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to revoke the channel’s licence violated Article 19(1) of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of speech, and Article 14 which provides for equality before law.

“…Unless there are adequate warranting circumstances viz. threat to the national security, the licence ought not to have been cancelled,” The Indian Express quoted the appeal as saying.

The appeal said the government could forbid channels by “managing intelligence reports”, and that no news channel will “dare broadcast any programme against the sweet will of the government”.

Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited said it was a “deplorable” fact that a showcause notice was issued when the channel applied for renewal of its licence. The appeal also stated that the licence had been revoked without any “genuine cause” and has put the lives of 350 employees in turmoil, according to The Indian Express.

Also read: Explainer: Why Kerala High Court verdict upholding ban on a news channel hurts press freedom