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'Clear, Significant Indications Impacting Public Order & Security' : Kerala High Court While Upholding Telecast Ban On MediaOne

Hannah M Varghese
2 March 2022 8:07 AM GMT
Clear, Significant Indications Impacting Public Order & Security : Kerala High Court While Upholding Telecast Ban On MediaOne
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Renewal of registration once granted is not an absolute right unmindful of other grievous situations, the Court observed.

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday while dismissing the appeal moved by Malayalam news channel MediaOne against the single judge order upholding the order passed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refusing to renew its broadcast license observed that national security is of utmost importance for the smooth functioning of a nation. After perusing the sealed files produced by...

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday while dismissing the appeal moved by Malayalam news channel MediaOne against the single judge order upholding the order passed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refusing to renew its broadcast license observed that national security is of utmost importance for the smooth functioning of a nation. 

After perusing the sealed files produced by the Centre, a Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly concluded that it was convinced that there were clear and significant indications impacting the public order and security of the State.

"...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."

The Court further noted that the files relating to uplinking/downlinking of 'Media One Life' and 'Media One Global revealed that M/s. Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd (the company running the channel) has some links with certain undesirable forces, which is stated to be a security threat. However, in spite of the same, uplinking and downlinking was permitted to Media One.

Nevertheless, when an application was filed for the renewal of the uplinking and downlinking services in 2021, documents suggested that these threats continued. In fact, the Court found 'serious adverse reports' by the Intelligence Bureau against Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd and its Managing Director.

"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."

Further, the Bench referred to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 and delved into the legislative intent behind its enactment to find that it is explicit from the objects and reasons that significance shall be given to the interests of the nation and as such a purposive interpretation shall be given to its provisions. 

It was emphasised that Sections 19 and 20 enables the Centre to do the needful to protect the larger interest of the nation and the citizens, rather than protecting the interest of a telecasting company.

"This we say because the eminent domain of the Government as regards national interest will always remain with the Government itself irrespective of the contents of the guidelines issued for the purpose to regulate and control the network operations of the registered establishments."

As such, the Court found it appropriate to legally presume that in the impugned order, the expression 'revocation' is used for the reason that normally and ordinarily, an operator who has received registration for uplinking and downlinking news is entitled to automatic renewal; but, when there are other reasons adverse to the interests of the nation, the Government is vested with powers to revoke the same, especially due to the fact that in spite of lapse of the permission during the month of September 2021, the company was permitted to operate the channel in question.

Moreover, in this case, a show-cause notice was issued to MediaOne to which it submitted its objections. It was thereafter that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting forwarded the same to the Ministry of Home Affairs for security clearance, which was declined. 

"Therefore, it cannot be said that the renewal of the permission is an absolute right unmindful of other grievous situations, once the registration and permission are granted. The extant guidelines also demonstrate that in the matter of grant of permission and renewal for uplinking and downlinking, by the ministry of broadcasting, the Ministry of Home Affairs is an inseparable link"

Holding that the appellants failed to establish any jurisdictional error or other legal infirmities in the judgment of the single Judge warranting our interference in an intra court appeal under Section 5 of the Kerala High Court Act, the appeal was dismissed. 

Senior Advocates Dushyant Dave, S Sreekumar and Jaju Babu, briefed by advocate Haris Beeran appeared for MediaOne and its Editor. The respondent Union of India was represented by Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi and Assistant Solicitor General S Manu.

Background: 

On January 31, a few hours after the Ministry suspended the channel's telecast citing security concerns, MediaOne had approached the Single Judge with a plea. The channel owned by Jamaat-e-Islami went off the air on the same day.

However, upon hearing the preliminary arguments set out by both sides, the Judge granted the channel an interim relief allowing it to telecast, which was extended on two occasions. 

Nevertheless, while delivering the judgment, Justice N. Nagaresh held that after perusing the files from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, it has found intelligence inputs that justify the denial of security clearance to the channel. The Ministry had produced the files before the Court in a sealed cover.

In the appeal filed by Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd, it was pointed out that under the camouflage of national security, the Ministry has prohibited the broadcasting of a news channel that has been in existence for more than a decade. The Channel raised the grievance that the exact reasons of refusal were not disclosed to it.

Case Title: Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited v. Union of India

Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 104

Click Here To Read/Download The Judgment 



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