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Supreme Court stays Centre’s order against Media One, permits Malayalam channel to continue broadcasting

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The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed till further orders, the January 31, 2022 order of the Centre, prohibiting Media One channel from broadcasting.

A Bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Vikram Nath directed the channel to resume operations in the same manner as it was operating, before the revocation of its security clearance.

The question of whether the Centre should disclose to the petitioners (media house) its files leading to the revocation of the licence, has been kept open.

The Apex Court directed the Centre to file its counter affidavit by March 26.

Senior Counsel Dushyant Dave, appearing for the channel, said that the channel had functioned for 11 years.

He further contended that security clearance was not needed for renewal of licences.

“No media, publication or channel will be saved if this is accepted. everybody can be shut down tomorrow,” Dave said.

Dave also pointed out how the government had not produced relevant files, which were claimed to contain adverse inputs against the channel.

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“How can a democratically elected government deny to produce records and deny freedom of speech and expression. this is completely covered by a judgment of this court. This channel is being shut down just because it is owned by minority individuals” 

-he said.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) K.M. Nataraj, appearing for the Central government, said that after the channel was taken off the air following the Single-Judge decision of the Kerala High Court, it appeared as a YouTube channel and engaged in personal attacks against the judge.

“They have carried on a YouTube channel, which criticised the Single-Judge Bench. The Institution is itself under danger under this petitioner,” he added.

The Court, however, said that anybody is free to criticise court verdicts.

“Let us have some light and not heat. There is complete freedom to criticise the judgment of courts,” said Justice Chandrachud.

“It is against the personal conduct of judges and browbeating the judges,” the ASG maintained.

Dave said that while he condemns it, the channel has nothing to with it.

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“YouTube portal is by same media,” the ASG said.

“For that you cannot shut us down,” said Dave

“You cannot browbeat the Judges,” the ASG maintained.

The appeal by MediaOne has challenged the Kerala High Court Division Bench judgement, which had upheld the Central government’s ban.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly had upheld a Single-Judge decision, which had rejected the channel’s plea against the government decision to revoke its licence.

On February 8, Justice N Nagaresh had upheld the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry) to revoke the Malayalam channel’s licence.

The Court opined that the material handed over to the Court in a sealed cover indicated that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had sufficient cause to deny security clearance to the channel, thereby justifying the ban.

The appeal against said order before the Division Bench alleged that the Central government’s haste to cancel the licence of the channel indicated that there was some pre-scripted agenda motivated by some ill-will against the channel.

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The channel, which is owned by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, was issued a notice by the ministry on January 5, 2022, in which it was stated that in consideration of national security and public order, the government can revoke licences.

It also asked them to showcause as to why their licence should not be revoked as the company had not received security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Central government had told the High Court that the decision to revoke the licence was based on credible national security concerns.

However, they refused to state what the concerns raised by MHA were, and contended that a party cannot insist on observing natural justice principles in a situation involving national security.

The Centre also submitted a sealed cover on some information regarding the reasons, which contributed to the decision to deny security clearance.

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The High Court had accepted the same to uphold the ban.

This is not the first time a channel has faced such a ban. In 2020, MediaOne along with another Malayalam channel, Asianet, were suspended for 48 hours over their coverage of the Delhi Riots, with official orders saying the channels had covered it in a manner which “highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community”
Recently, another media services company, MediaGuru, moved the Delhi High Court challenging the show-cause served on it by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

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