Kerala HC’s division bench affirms ban on MediaOne TV based on contents of sealed cover claiming national security

A division bench of the Kerala High Court on Wednesday upheld the single-judge order of last month upholding the ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV on the ground of national security.

A bench comprising Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice P. Chaly held that it was satisfied after going through the contents of the confidential files produced before it in a sealed cover, that the single judge was right in declining to interfere with the order passed by the Government of India refusing renewal of uplinking and downlinking permission to M/s. Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited for telecast operations through ‘Media One TV’.

“The security of the State and the public order are very vital for the fair and smooth functioning of the nation and therefore, significance and importance shall be provided to the interests of the citizens of this country, rather than other aspects”, read the judgment penned by Justice Chaly for the bench.

Within a few hours of the High court’s verdict, MediaOne has petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the division bench order.

On February 8, a single judge bench presided by Justice N. Nagaresh refused to provide any relief to “Media One TV” after perusing the confidential files which he had summoned in a sealed cover, without allowing access of the same to the petitioner.

From the files, the bench drew the conclusion that “it is discernible that the Committee of Officers took note of the inputs given by the intelligence agencies as regards the petitioner company, and found that the inputs are of a serious nature and falls under the security rating parameters. In the circumstances, the Committee of Officers advised not to renew the licence. This Court finds that the recommendations of the Committee of Officers as finally accepted by the MHA [Union Ministry of Home Affairs], are justified by supporting materials”.

Affirming the single judge decision, the division bench observed that, “It is true that the nature, impact, gravity and depth of the issue is not discernible from the files. But, at the same time, there are clear and significant indications impacting the public order and security of the State. Since it is a confidential and sensitive file maintained by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Union of India, we are not expressing anything further in the interest of national security, public order and other aspects concerning the administration of the nation.”

The division bench also held that as per the policy guidelines for uplinking of television channels dated December 5, 2011, in the matter of grant of permission and renewal for uplinking and downlinking by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MI&B), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] is an inseparable link.

On May 3 last year, the petitioner had submitted an application seeking renewal of permission of the TV Channel licence for a further period of 10 years. The application was forwarded to the MHA by the MI&B on November 29 last year. However, on December 29 last year, the MHA denied security clearance to the company relating to the proposal, that is, the renewal of uplinking and downlinking permission for a further period of 10 years with respect to ‘MediaOne’.

Following this, the MI&B issued a show-cause notice on January 1, 2022, to the petitioner asking as to why permission seeking renewal should not be denied. In response, the petitioner on January 19 stated that they were unaware of the grounds of denial of renewal of security clearance since the same was not communicated to them and that they were never granted an opportunity of being heard while denying the clearance.

Eventually, the proceedings arising from show-cause notice resulted in the order passed by the MI&B on January 31 revoking the permission granted to the petitioner company to uplink and downlink a News and Current Affairs TV Channel.

The company argued before the high court that they had never been given reasons as to how they violated national security, and were therefore denied clearance, in violation of principles of natural justice. Besides, it was contended by the petitioner that the action of the government violated press freedom.

Click here to read the judgment. 

The Leaflet