The Supreme Court prima facie expresses its disapproval of the sealed cover jurisprudence by which the petitioner was denied access to confidential files which led to the ban.
IN a big relief to Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the order of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] denying security clearance to the channel on grounds of national security. The Court also allowed the channel to operate till further orders by it. Meanwhile, the Court has called for the counter affidavit by the Union Government.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath passed the order to this effect on a petition filed by MediaOne TV challenging the Kerala High Court’s division bench order upholding the ban on the channel.
The bench, during the course of the hearing, perused the confidential files on the basis of which clearance was denied to the channel. The bench, after going through the files, opined that a case for interim relief was made out in favor of the channel. The files were perused by the three judges to the exclusion of the petitioner with the consent of the latter.
The bench clarified that its perusal of the confidential files to the exclusion of the petitioner should not be treated as an expression on the tenability of files being examined to the exclusion of the petitioner.
During the hearing, the bench also observed that the channel is entitled to know the particulars of the files on the basis of which the channel has been shut down.
“How will they defend themselves without having the access to the file?”, asked Justice Chandrachud of the Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, adding that he is averse to the sealed cover jurisprudence.
The bench, however, deferred this question for answering at the final stage. It said it would also decide whether the channel is entitled to access to the confidential files.
Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, for the petitioner, argued that the High Court accepted that the renewal of the license is automatic but then cited national security concerns to uphold the ban. He added that the security clearance is not necessary at the time of renewal. He informed the Court that the channel had been functioning for over 11 years and no security concerns were raised at any point. He said the channel was closed down only because it was being run by people from the minority community.
“No media channel in this country will be safe if this principle is accepted. Nobody is safe”, Dave argued.
On March 2, a division bench of the Kerala High Court 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’. However, at the same time, the division bench also observed from the files that the nature, impact, gravity and depth of the issue was not discernible. Yet, it went on to uphold the ban, citing the confidential and sensitive nature of the files maintained by the MHA. It said it would not express anything further in the interest of national security, public order and other aspects concerning the administration of the nation.
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 ten years. The application was forwarded to the MHA by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (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 ten years with respect to ‘MediaOne’.
Following this, the MI&B issued a show-cause notice on January 1 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 it had never been given reasons as to how it violated national security, and was therefore denied clearance, in violation of the principles of natural justice. Besides, it was contended by the petitioner that the action of the government violated press freedom.