by Muslim Mirror Staff
The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the Centre’s refusal to renew the broadcast licence of Malayalam news channel Media One, which had been refused security clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) due to alleged ties with the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind.
A bench presided over by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud also overturned a Kerala High Court decision upholding the government’s action and ordered that the licence be renewed within four weeks. The bench, which also included Justice Hima Kohli, criticised the HC’s sealed cover process as well as the “cavalier manner” in which the Centre “raised the claim of national security” to refuse the security clearance.
The apex court said, “The state is using national security as a tool to deny citizens remedies that are provided under the law. This is not compatible with the rule of law”.
“While we have held that it would be impracticable and unwise for the courts to define the phrase national security, we also hold that national security claims cannot be made out of thin air. There must be material backing such inference. The material on the file and the inference drawn from such material has no nexus,” the court said.
“On a perusal of the material, no reasonable person would arrive at the conclusion that the non-disclosure of the relevant material would be in the interest of national security and confidentiality,” the court further said.
While the Ministry of Home Affairs had relied on the channel’s reports on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and criticism of the judiciary and the state, among other things, to claim that it is anti-establishment, the Supreme Court ruled that these are not justifiable grounds for refusing renewal of its broadcast licence.
“An independent press is vital for the robust functioning of a democratic republic. Its role in a democratic society is crucial for it shines a light on the functioning of the state. The press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction. The restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. A homogenised view on issues that range from socio-economic polity to political ideologies would pose grave dangers to democracy,” the court said.
“The critical views of the channel…on policies of the government cannot be termed anti-establishment. The use of such terminology in itself represents an expectation that the press must support the establishment. The action of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by denying security clearance to a media channel on the basis of the views which the channel is constitutionally entitled to hold produces a chilling effect on free speech and particularly on press freedom. Criticism of governmental policy can by no stretch of imagination be brought within the fold of any of the grounds stipulated in Article 19(2),” the court further said.
“Sealed cover procedure cannot be introduced to cover harms that cannot be remedies by public immunity proceedings…Principles of natural justice may be excluded when interests of national security outweighs. But a blanket immunity from disclosure cannot be granted…Sealed cover procedure infringe the principles of natural justice and open justice.”
In response to the MHA’s denial of security clearance on the grounds that the station had ties to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the Supreme Court stated, “When JEIH is not banned organisation, it will rather precarious for the state to contend that links with the organisation would affect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order.”
Mediaone TV is India’s sole Muslim-owned private satellite station. The ban on MediaOne TV had faced criticism from global journalist bodies and the media fraternity across the world.
In March 2020, the Union government placed a 48-hour ban on MediaOne for its coverage of the Delhi riots, claiming that the “channel seems to be critical towards Delhi Police and RSS.”
MediaOne TV went off the air on January 31, 2022, after the Centre suspended its broadcast for “security reasons.”
On March 15, 2022, the Supreme Court issued an interim order permitting the channel to continue operations awaiting a final decision.