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BREAKING| MediaOne Case: Kerala High Court Calls For MHA Files Which Cited Security Reasons; Allows Channel Telecast Till Feb 7

Hannah M Varghese
2 Feb 2022 11:09 AM GMT
BREAKING| MediaOne Case: Kerala High Court Calls For MHA Files Which Cited Security Reasons; Allows Channel Telecast Till Feb 7
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The Kerala High Court on Wednesday extended the interim order deferring the Union Government's decision to cancel the permission to telecast Malayalam news channel MediaOne till next Monday.Justice N. Nagaresh also directed the Union Government to produce before the Court the relevant files of the Ministry of Home Affairs which recommended the cancellation of the license of the channel...

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday extended the interim order deferring the Union Government's decision to cancel the permission to telecast Malayalam news channel MediaOne till next Monday.

Justice N. Nagaresh also directed the Union Government to produce before the Court the relevant files of the Ministry of Home Affairs which recommended the cancellation of the license of the channel citing national security reasons.

Assistant Solicitor General of India S Manu filed a statement and informed the Court that the channel's license was cancelled due to security reasons, which could not be revealed to the public. If the Court directs, the concerned files could be produced in a sealed cover, the law officer of the Union Government submitted. The ASGI referred to a 2019 Supreme Court decision that upheld the cancellation of Cable TV licenses observing that the applicant has no right to prior notice when national security issues are involved.

He further pointed out that as per the relevant guidelines, the security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs is necessary to grant permission for telecast. It was also vehemently argued that the Court should not extend the interim order since it was similar to granting the final relief sought for in the petition. 

On the other hand, Senior Advocate S Sreekumar, appearing for MediaOne submitted that national security cannot be a reason to cancel the license without prior notice. He referred to the Supreme Court's judgment in the Pegasus case to submit that State can't merely cite national security to withhold information.

Reliance was also placed on Supreme Court's judgment in the Anuradha Bhasin case to convey that the State has to respect freedom of the press. The senior counsel sought to distinguish the case cited by the ASG by expressing that it was an instance of a fresh application, whereas MediaOne had been in operation for many years.

"Our security clearance was obtained as early as in 2010. There was no hindrance to this till 2020. Only when I applied for a renewal an issue was found. Moreover, there are two distinct procedures for a fresh application and a renewal application", Sreekumar submitted.

"Merely on the guise of security they cannot revoke our license. At least the court should be informed of the exact reasons. So my humble request is that the interim order may be extended", Sreekumar pleaded.

The ASG opposed the extension of interim order by saying that it will amount to grant of the final relief.

Justice Nagaresh said that he wanted to peruse the files of the MHA. During the hearing, the Judge asked what was the point is serving a show-cause notice if the reasons for cancellation cannot be revealed.

"You may not give any names, but you should at least disclose why their license was revoked", the judge told the ASG.

The developments ensued in a writ petition filed by the television channel, owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, hours after the Ministry suspended its telecast citing security concerns.

The Court had on Monday stayed the operation of the order till the next hearing day, i.e., today. 

The Centre had earlier issued permission enabling the petitioner channel to uplink and downlink TV programmes, and this permission was valid till 29.09.2021.

Senior Advocate S. Sreekumar appearing for the petitioner had admitted that the channel was issued with a show-cause notice by the Centre on January 5, 2022, on why the Centre should not revoke its license in consideration of national security and public order.

However, it was pointed out that in response to this notice, the company had requested not to proceed with the notice without affording an opportunity of hearing and that they were not informed of the reasons why the security clearance was denied.

Nevertheless, he argued that the Ministry proceeded to revoke the permission granted to the petitioner with immediate effect, thereby removing the channel from the list of permitted channels.

The counsel added that such a notice could only be served by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and not the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In its plea filed through Advocate Rakesh K, the channel had also contended that it has not involved itself in any sort of anti-national activity.

Therefore, it had prayed that considering the huge investment involved in the business, the order of the Ministry be withdrawn.

Case Title: Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited v. Union of India



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