The Kerala High Court today upheld the Centre's decision to bar telecast of Malayalam news channel MediaOne.
Justice N Nagaresh dismissed the plea of Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd which operates MediaOne challenging the central government's January 31 decision.
"I have perused the files. It emerges from the files that the MHA had called for inputs from intelligence agencies. The files contained paginated documents, conclusions of the Committee of Officers and other responsible officers of the MHA and the Guidelines for assessment of proposal received in the MHA for National Security Clearances. National Security covers preservation of nations unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty and protection of life and liberty of individuals. The Information and Broadcasting is a sensitive sector", the Court has held in its Judgment.
The Court has found after perusing the files related to case produced by the Ministry of Home Affairs that the Committee of Officers had taken note of the inputs given by the intelligence agencies as regards the petitioner-Company, and found that the inputs are of a serious nature and falls under the security rating parameters. Based on that the Committee of Officers advised MHA not to renew the licence. "This Court finds that the recommendations of the Committee of Officers as finally accepted by the MHA, are justified by supporting materials", the Court held.
The Court rejected the argument of the Petitioner about violation of principles of natural justice, in as much as they were not informed of the reason for declining permission on national security grounds. "From the law laid down by the Hon'ble Apex Court, it is clear that the principles of natural justice and interference by courts in the matter of national security, have very limited role", the Court held.
The Court held that while renewal of permission for downlinking also, the security clearance is mandatory as per the Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Broadcasting. "The contention of the petitioners that the security clearance is a one time affair and is not required at the time of renewal of licence, therefore, cannot be accepted", the Court held.
The Court held that the freedom of the press is unrestricted. The observed that "The freedom is not to be misunderstood as to be a press free to disregard its duty to be responsible. The element of responsibility must be present in the conscience of the journalists".
The Centre, during the arguments on Monday, had contended that a security clearance once issued cannot continue forever.
The central government had previously told the court that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) denied security clearance to MediaOne over national security concerns based on intelligence inputs.
The channel, on the other hand, contended that MHA clearance was only required at the time for fresh permission/license and not at the time of renewal.
It had also contended that, according to the uplinking and downlinking guidelines, security clearance was only required at the time of application for fresh permission and not at the time of renewal of licence.
This was not the first time the channel has faced such a bar on its operation.
MediaOne, along with another Malayalam News channel, Asianet, was briefly suspended for 48 hours over their coverage of communal violence in Delhi in 2020, with the official orders saying they covered the violence in a manner that "highlighted the attack on places of worship and siding towards a particular community".
Story Updated after receipt of Judgment