A division bench of Kerala High Court on Wednesday upheld the ban on Malayalam news channel Media One TV dismissing the appeals of the management and journalists who had challenged a February 9 single-bench order that had refused to lift it.
Responding to the verdict, Media One TV said they would move an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The division bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chali observed that when certain issues with respect to the security of the State are concerned, the government is at liberty to decline to renew the permission granted, without disclosing the complete reasons for the non-renewal.
The division bench observed that in the files produced before it, there are certain aspects affecting the public order or the security of the State on the basis of the report of the Intelligence Bureau and other investigating agencies.
Media One TV was banned by the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry after the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) refused to give clearance to the channel, citing “security reasons”.
On February 9, a single bench of the high court had upheld the ban on the channel, which has the backing of the Kerala chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami. Challenging the single bench order, Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, which runs Media One TV, appealed to the division bench on February 11. The bench heard the I&B Ministry and the media house in detail and then reserved the orders.
On Wednesday (March 2), the division bench said: “Certain aspects relating to the security of the State are mentioned to the effect that Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited has some linkages with certain undesirable forces, which is stated to be a security threat.’’
The bench continued, “the security of the State and the public order are very vital for the fair and smooth functioning of the nation and therefore, significance and importance shall be provided to the interests of the citizens of this country, rather than other aspects. Taking into account all vital aspects, including the contents of the confidential files produced before us, we are of the view that the learned single Judge was right in declining interference with the order passed by the Union Government refusing renewal of uplinking and downlinking permission to Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited for telecast operations through ‘Media One TV’.’’
“We find that there are certain serious adverse reports by the Intelligence Bureau against Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited and its managing director. It is true that the nature, impact, gravity and depth of the issue is not discernible from the files. But, at the same time, there are clear and significant indications impacting the public order and security of the State. Since it is a confidential and sensitive file maintained by the MHA, we are not expressing anything further in the interest of national security, public order and other aspects concerning the administration of the nation,” said the bench in the order.
The Union government had informed the court that based on the inputs from various intelligence agencies, the MHA had formed a committee of officers, which found that the security clearance for the channel should not be renewed.
Earlier, the single bench of N Nagaresh, after perusing through files submitted by the MHA, had observed that there were material and intelligence reports supporting the ban on the channel.
As the 10-year permission for MediaOne TV was to expire on September 29, 2021, the company applied for its renewal for another 10 years in May 2021. On December 29, 2021, the MHA denied security clearance to it, and on January 5 this year, the ministry served a notice seeking to know why its application for renewal of permission should not be closed in view of the denial of security clearance. On January 31, the ministry issued the order barring the channel’s transmission. Hours later, the management moved the single bench of the high court, seeking relief.
The single bench had temporarily deferred the implementation of the ban order but refused to intervene in the order after perusing through the files submitted by the MHA.
The management had argued that the reasons behind the ban were not revealed, leading to denial of natural justice and violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19(1) and 21 of the Constitution of India.
But the Union government said that in a situation of national security, a party cannot insist on strict observance of the principles of natural justice. In such cases, it is the duty of the court to read into and provide for statutory exclusion, if not expressly provided in the rules.
Before the non-renewal of the licence of Media One TV, the MHA in 2016 had denied security clearance to Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited’s proposals for two additional TV channels namely, “Media One Life” and “Media One Global” and appointment of two company directors, Musliyarakath Mehaboob and Rahmathunnissa Abdul Razack.
The above cancellation and denial for permission to appoint directors were not challenged by the company.