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Supreme Court Stays Order Banning Malayam Channel MediaOne's Telecast

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath allowed the news and current affairs channel to continue its operations as they were prior to the telecast ban.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the Union government’s January 31 order banning the telecast of Malayalam news channel MediaOne until further orders.

According to news agency PTI, a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath allowed the news and current affairs channel to continue its operations as they were prior to the telecast ban.

The bench left open the question of whether the content of files on the basis of which the ban order was passed should be given to the channel to enable it to defend itself.

The top court asked the Union government to file a detailed counter affidavit by March 26 on the appeals filed by the channel against the Kerala high court order which upheld the ban. On March 10, the top court had sought a response from the Union govenrment on MediaOne’s plea.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry had revoked the license of MediaOne on January 31, citing “national security concerns” raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

“We are of the view that the case of grant of interim relief has been made out. We order and direct that order dated January 31, 2022 of the Union government revoking the security clearance of Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd stands stayed pending further orders,” the bench ordered.

“The petitioners (Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd and Pramod Raman, the editor of the channel and others) shall be permitted to continue operating the news and current affairs channel ‘MediaOne’ on the same basis as it was operating prior to the revocation of clearances,” it said.

The bench passed the order after perusing the files filed by the Union government on the basis of which security clearance was revoked and the Kerala high court had passed the order upholding the ban on the telecast.

At the outset, senior advocate Dushyant Dave, appearing for the media house, said that on Tuesday, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) in another matter disapproved the practice of giving reports in a sealed cover.

He said the sealed cover business strikes the very basis of law and cannot be encouraged.

He added that in the high court, the Union government gave the reports in a sealed cover and they were not given a chance to defend it.

The senior counsel said the order of the division bench accepted that the renewal of the licence is automatic and then upheld the revoking of the licence on security grounds.

“I have been running my business since 2011 and I have millions of viewers. Now I have been shut down and 382 people are out of job,” Dave said, adding that permission for downlinking was granted for five years in 2019.

He said, “No media channel will be safe if this principle is accepted. Everyone can be shut down.”

Additional solicitor general S.V. Raju, appearing for the Union government, said he needs a week to file a detailed affidavit, and granting them interim relief would mean granting them actual relief.

The bench asked Raju, “What is the difficulty in disclosing the files to them? Their business has been shut down. They need to know on what basis this was ordered, so that they can defend themselves. All that you have said in the high court is that on the basis of intelligence inputs a decision was taken.”

Additional solicitor general K.M. Nataraj, also appearing for the Union government, said they have brought the files but it is for the perusal of the court and they are not shying away from sharing with the court.

Dave said that heavens are not going to fall if they are allowed to run the channel and for six weeks we have been shut down just because the channel is being run by a member of a minority community.

They have not pointed out a single instance when I have violated the programme code, he said.

Justice Chandrachud said that he is averse to the sealed cover jurisprudence and asked Dave whether he has any objection if the court peruses the files which are produced by the Union government.

Dave said that he has no objection to the court perusing the files.

Nataraj pointed out that after the single-judge of Kerala HC passed the order, “this media house through a YouYube channel run by it had criticised the judgement and the judge by making personal remarks.”

“This is serious because they have tried to browbeat the court,” he said, adding that the channel is liable to be held guilty for contempt of court.

Justice Chandrachud said citizens have the right to criticise the judgements of the court but they cannot make personal remarks against a judge.

Dave, appearing along with senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi and Huzefa Ahmadi, said that he had condemned the said YouTube programme but it cannot be a ground to shut the channel.

Background

Upholding the ban, the Kerala high court had said on February 8 that the Supreme Court’s observation that the mere invocation of national security by the government should not render the court a “mute spectator” will not be applicable to MediaOne’s case because “it was rendered in the context of the right to privacy”.

The Supreme Court, setting up an independent committee to investigate the alleged use of the Pegasus spyware against journalists, opposition politicians and members of civil society, had in October 2021 said “national security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning.”

Issue raised in parliament

In the Lok Sabha, the issue was raised – albeit indirectly – during question hour. The government said that private TV channels against which action is taken for allegedly propagating content detrimental to national security are given “enough opportunities to clarify their stand”.

Union minister of state for information and broadcasting L. Murugan said all fresh and renewal applications of private TV channels are vetted by the MHA.

He said that if any channel’s activity is found to be posing threat to national security, the MHA denies the security clearance which leads to automatic cancellation of the licence provided by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

(With PTI inputs)