The Union home ministry’s decision to deny security clearance to radio and television channels owned by the Sun TV network on grounds of national security is based on incomprehensible logic. Ministry officials told this newspaper that the decision was influenced by the charges, including of corruption and money laundering, faced by promoters of the network. The Dayanidhi-Kalanithi Maran brothers are the focus of a CBI investigation into the Aircel-Maxis deal. Questions have been raised over funds received by the network, and they have apparently impelled the ministry to conclude that Sun could have “adverse impact on the nation’s economic security”. The source and the routing of the funds surely need to be probed and culpability fixed if rules have been violated. But blacklisting the firm’s radio and TV business when the case is still in court is completely unwarranted.
The spectre of national security invoked by the home ministry to justify its decision in the Marans’ case is clearly contrived. Sun should be penalised only if its content can be proved to pose a threat to national security. The alleged corruption of the Maran brothers must be investigated independently. Earlier, the home ministry had refused clearance to Sun’s 45 radio channels under the same “national security” premise. The network moved court and got the decision stayed. The cancellation of licences could now force the network to shut down its 33 television channels broadcasting in four south Indian languages and reaching 95 million households. Set up in 1993, Sun has already lost 25 per cent of its market worth since the home ministry decision.
The Maran brothers are linked to the DMK’s first family and the Sun TV network is crucial for the party’s public outreach. True to its political links, the network has been a voice of the opposition in Tamil Nadu. In the absence of a convincing argument, the government’s decision to move against the network could be construed as being politically motivated. A wise step for the home ministry would be to judge Sun’s plea for licences solely on the basis of its content. Investigation into the corruption charges should run its separate course, as it has for other businessmen involved in the Aircel-Maxis case.
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