The Supreme Court on Tuesday began hearing a plea filed against the Kerala High Court’s order upholding the ban imposed on Malayalam news channel Media One by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for non-renewal of its broadcast licence.
Appeared before the comprising bench Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli, Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave Representing the channel, submitted that the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 which also provides for renewal of licences, does not contemplate any security clearance from the MHA at the stage of renewal.
He noted that Sections 3 and 4 of the Act allow for original and renewal applications. Section 4(6) provides conditions for such renewal. It includes the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, foreign relations or contempt of court, defamation or incitement to commit an offence.
Dave submitted that non-fulfillment of any one of these requirements, is not eligible for registration and renewal. However, the government cannot impose any conditions outside the cap, he said. “The sui generis must be read in accordance with the government’s criteria, with additional criteria… Freedom of the press is at the heart of the debate.“
“In the name of security clearance, when I have not been accused of violating any clear conditions, I have not done anything against public interest, national interest, can I be denied permission for renewal?…As per the provisions, renewal will be considered. For a period of 10 years at a time, subject to the condition that they have not been found guilty of breaching the Channel Terms and Conditions, including breaching the Program and Advertising Code on 5 or more occasions. There was no violation in my case.“
He submitted that when two separate original and renewal applications are prescribed, they must proceed on such terms.
“Security clearance is required only at the threshold of application for channel, not renewal,Dave said.
Here, the bench orally observed that even for renewal a person has to go through all the procedures. “Security is essential for the initial phase, there is little to say no for renewal… as you will have uplinking rights upon renewal.“
“This policy provides. You can go beyond the policy and say security clearance is required and then refuse. The renewal provision states the general terms and conditions… Security clearance is not a term and condition. When preliminary permission is sought, it is the power of the Government. Government has no right of security clearance in the name of terms and conditions.“
On January 31, hours after the ministry suspended the channel’s transmission over security concerns, MediaOne had filed a petition before a single judge. The Jamaat-e-Islami-owned channel was shut down on the same day.
The channel argued in the petition that the exact reasons for non-renewal of the license by the Center were not disclosed to them and the court passed the decision on the basis of some sealed cover files prepared by the Home Ministry and raised certain issues. National security concerns.
The petitioner further argued that Sections 9 and 10 of the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines make it clear that for the purpose of renewal of license, security clearance is not considered as a factor so the uplinked result is clearly illegal.
Moreover, since no complaint or any action has been taken against the petitioner in the last 10 years, it was asserted that renewal is a matter of right for the petitioner on a plain reading of Sections 9 and 10.
Manoharlal Sharma Vs. Reliance was also placed on the judgment of the Supreme Court in Union of India (Pegasus Case) where it was held that the scope of judicial review is limited in matters related to national security, however, this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time a question of national security arises.
On February 8, Justice N. A single bench of Nagesh held that after perusing the files of the Union Home Ministry, the channel had found intelligence inputs justifying the denial of security clearance.
Aggrieved by this, MediaOne appealed to the bench. However, the Division Bench, single judge & supported by Ban
On March 15, the Supreme Court had stayed the order of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which had refused to extend licenses for channels under the Cable TV Network Regulation Act. The interim order was passed on a special leave petition filed by the channel’s operating company challenging the Kerala High Court’s judgment upholding the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting not to renew the channel’s broadcasting licence.
The hearing will continue tomorrow.
Case Title: Madhyam Broadcasting Limited Vs. Union of India
Click here to read/download the order