The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Centre why it cannot inform Kerala-based news channel MediaOne TV about the reasons to revoke its licence to broadcast, reported Live Law.
MediaOne TV had gone off air on January 31 after the Centre suspended its telecast citing security reasons when the news channel approached the government for renewing its licence. The channel is reportedly backed by the Kerala unit of Jamaat-e-Islami, a socio-religious political organisation that was declared unlawful by the Centre for five years in 2019.
On March 2, the Kerala High Court had upheld the Centre’s ban on MediaOne TV citing national security. The High Court judges had said that certain confidential files provided by the Centre in sealed covers had convinced them that the channel posed a threat to national security.
The channel then moved the Supreme Court, which stayed the ban, and asked the Centre to tell the news channel why it was banned. The government, however, refused to disclose the reasons saying it can have “unimaginable and far-reaching” consequences on national security.
On Wednesday, a bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli asked the Centre what recourse do citizens have if the government denies them security clearance or permission to operate.
Noting that the government had submitted the reasons for ban in a sealed cover, the court said that even accused persons in criminal cases are informed about the charges against them. It said that the Centre has not even held MediaOne as an offender but just not renewed its licence.
“You may redact your sources of information, but can you decline them, the information on the basis of which you are arriving at this conclusion?” the bench asked. “Even in case of detention under the National Security Act, you have to give grounds of detention. Now here you merely say that MHA [Ministry of Home Affairs] has denied security clearance.”
The court said that while the broadcast regulations state national security and public order are grounds to deny renewal of licence, the channel still needs to know what the security breach was.
“Renewal of licence is important for a media house because there is investment involved, market reputation at risk, people have been employed,” it said. “In this case, they have been running for the past 10 years, so goodwill in the market is also there.”
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for MediaOne, claimed that the news channel has never violated the programme code and that its only crime is that it is owned by members of a minority community.
Dave argued that the lack of security clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs cannot be grounds to not renew the licence if the channel has fulfilled the conditions under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
“The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, which includes the press freedom, can be restricted only on the grounds enumerated under Article 19 (2) [restirctions on freedom of speech and expression],” he said.
The bench asked Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj to seek instructions on these questions and listed the matter for hearing on Thursday.