Interim Order Allows Channel to Operate

The Supreme Court on March 15 stayed the telecast ban imposed by the Union Government on Malayalam news channel MediaOne. The Court passed the interim order in a special leave petition filed by the company running the channel, assailing the Kerala High Court’s judgment of upholding the decision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting not to renew the broadcast

license of the channel.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath passed the order after examining the files produced by the Ministry of Home Affairs raising security concerns regarding the company running the channel. The bench perused the files itself, without sharing them with the petitioner, with the consent of its counsel Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave.

The bench said that a prima facie case was made out for the grant of interim relief for the channel. The channel has been allowed to operate as it used to do before the Centre’s decision.

“We are of the view that the case of grant of interim relief has been made out. We order and direct that Union Government order revoking security clearance to Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd stands stayed pending further orders. The petitioners shall be permitted to continue operating the news and current affairs channel MediaOne on the same basis as the channel was being operated prior to the revocation of clearance,” the Court’s order stated.

“This order is not an expression on the tenability of files being examined to the exclusion of the petitioner…,” the bench observed in the order.

The Union has been asked to file the counter-affidavit by March 26. The bench indicated that it will go into the issue of the tenability of the sealed cover procedure.

Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the channel, at the outset mentioned that today the Chief Justice of India in another matter disapproved the practice of giving reports in sealed covers.

“Please don’t give us sealed cover, we don’t want it here,” Dave quoted the CJI as having said. Sealed cover can’t be the basis for a judgment, Dave submitted, challenging the High Court’s judgment for upholding the Centre’s ban by relying on the files produced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in sealed cover.

Dave submitted that the High Court accepted that the renewal of the licence is automatic but then cited national security concerns. Security clearance is not necessary at the time of renewal. The channel had been functioning for over 11 years and no security concerns were raised at any point. “No media channel in this country will be safe if this principle is accepted. Nobody is safe,” Dave urged.

Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Central Government, sought for a short adjournment. Dave opposed the request, saying that the matter was specifically posted today for consideration of interim relief.

Justice Chandrachud told the ASG that the files should be disclosed to the channel. “What is the difficulty in disclosing the files? You have to disclose the files to them so that they can defend themselves. They are a news channel. You are denying someone’s right to run business. All that you say in the High Court is that the decision was taken on the basis of intelligence inputs which are sensitive in nature.”

“The division bench says that not too many details are available from the files. This is the danger,” Justice Chandrachud continued.

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