Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Supreme Court quashes Centre’s telecast ban on MediaOne, calls it against principle of natural justice

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The Supreme Court has finally ruled against the Union Government’s ban on telecast by Malayalam news channel MediaOne.

The order was passed by the Apex Court on a special leave petition filed by the company running the channel assailing the Kerala High Court’s judgment.

The Kerala High Court had decided to uphold the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for not renewing the broadcast license of the channel for want of security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli said that there was no explanation on what weighed with the High Court in holding the decision as valid.

It also said that the government cannot be allowed to have a stand that press must support the government. It said criticism of government cannot be a ground to revoke license of a media/TV channel.

The CJI added that there cannot be a blanket immunity to the government for disclosure of information to the other parties in a proceeding before the court,

All investigation reports cannot be termed secret as these affect the rights and liberty of the citizens, he said.

The Court said that the state was using the plea of national security to deny the rights of the citizens.

The Ministry of Home Affairs had relied on reports of the channel on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), criticism of judiciary, State etc. to state that it was an anti-establishment.

The top court of the country, however, said these were not fair grounds for broadcast license not to be renewed.

The Court added that it was the duty of the press to speak truth to power and inform citizens about hard facts. The critical views of the channel against the government policies could not be termed as anti-establishment.

Noting that an independent press was necessary for a robust democracy, the Apex Court observed that the criticism of government policies could not be stretched to mean any of the grounds under Article 19(2), which could restrict free speech.

The Apex Court also cautioned that national security claims cannot be made out of thin air and there must be material facts backing it.

Sealed Cover

The Bench said it believed that the non-disclosure of reasons for denial of security clearance by MHA, along with disclosure only to the Court in a sealed cover, has violated the principles of natural justice and the right to fair proceedings, leaving the company in the dark to fight out the reason.

The Court reiterated that the sealed cover procedure could not be introduced to cover harms that cannot be remedies by public immunity proceedings.

It also added that the principles of natural justice may be excluded only when interests of national security outweighs.

On March 15, 2022, the Court had passed an interim order allowing the channel to continue its operations pending the final decision

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