Union Finance and Information & Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley is likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to discuss the implications of the home ministry’s denial of security clearance to Sun TV’s television and FM radio channels. The issue has assumed urgency given that the entire auction process of FM phase 3 has been held up with the I&B Ministry not convening a meeting of the application review committee. All other 28 companies, barring those affiliated to Kalanithi Maran-promoted Sun TV Network, that had applied for the auction and migration from phase 2 to phase 3, have been granted security clearance.
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According to government sources, what has also stumped the I&B ministry is the Union home ministry’s stance with respect to the print publications of the Sun TV group.
In response to the I&B Ministry’s query regarding the fate of the newspapers and magazines from the Sun stable such as Dinakaran, Kumudham and Murasoli, the Home Ministry has said print publications “do not fall under the ambit of national security clearance”.
In other words, the Home Ministry has sought to distinguish between print and other media such as radio and television.
While Jaitley is understood to have conveyed to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh the possibility of an adverse legal fallout were the government to issue a notice to companies belonging to the Sun TV group, it has not cut much ice with his ministry. At a recent meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Law Secretary is said to have pointed out that such a move would go against the spirit of Article 19 (1) of the Constitution on freedom of speech. This was subsequently reiterated in an opinion obtained from the Attorney General’s office. But the PMO had opined in the meeting then that once security clearance has been denied, there was no need perhaps to seek even the AG’s opinion.
In his letter to Rajnath Singh dated April 1 following the denial of security clearance on March 30 to Sun TV’s FM radio channels, Jaitley had said this was likely to be challenged in the court. “Such a situation will result in unnecessary embarrassment besides eliminating a large group from the FM channels. In view of the above mentioned position, it is felt necessary to request your indulgence for reconsidering the decision…’” the letter stated.