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Revocation of MediaOne License a Clampdown On Press Freedom in India: Eminent Persons

"The decision of the Kerala high court was based on a 'sealed cover' envelope provided by the MHA, the contents of which were not shared with MediaOne News," they said in a joint statement.

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New Delhi: Several parliamentarians, lawyers, editors and activists came out in support of Malayalam news channel MediaOne on Monday, saying the revocation of its license by the Union government on “unspecified” security concerns represents “a clampdown on broader press freedom in India”.

They also expressed “disappointment” with the decision of the Kerala high court in the matter, saying it refused to overturn the cancellation of the news channel’s license by the government and protect the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

“The decision of the single-judge bench of the Kerala high court was based on a ‘sealed cover’ envelope provided by the (Union) ministry of home affairs (MHA), the contents of which were not shared with MediaOne News,” they said in a joint statement.

They hoped the division bench of the high court, which has reserved its judgment on the appeals filed against the single bench order, would protect the channel’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and restore its transmission license.

Also read: Interview | ‘Completely Kept in Dark’: MediaOne Editor on Channel Ban, HC Verdict and MHA

Congress’s Digvijay Singh, DMK’s Kanimozhi, TMC’s Mahua Moitra, Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi, RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha, CPM’s Elamaram Kareem, CPI’s Binoy Viswam, RSP’s N.K. Premachandran, AIUDF’s Badruddin Ajmal and IUML’s E.T. Mohd Basheer are among the parliamentarians who signed the joint statement released at a press conference here.

The 42 eminent people, who signed the statement, included chairman of The Hindu newspaper N. Ram, editor of Telegraph R. Rajagopal, executive editor of The Caravan magazine Vinod K. Jose, editor of MediaOne Pramod Raman, former judge of Bombay high court B.G. Kolse Patil, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh K.S. Subramanian and noted author Tushar Gandhi.

“MediaOne News, a Kerala-based news and current affairs TV channel, suddenly and arbitrarily had its uplinking and downlinking license revoked by the I&B ministry, citing unspecified national security concerns raised by the MHA,” they said.

“This arbitrary act of the MHA amounts to a violation of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, and also represents a clamp down on broader press freedom in India,” they said.

“We are also extremely disappointed by the decision of the single-judge bench of the Kerala high court which refused to overturn the cancellation of MediaOne News’s license by the MIB and the MHA and protect the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression,” they added.

They said that the Union government had in 2020 suspended MediaOne’s transmission for 48 hours, along with that of Asianet News, over coverage of the Delhi violence that took place in February of that year.

MediaOne News team of reporters and journalists had conducted “extensive coverage of the horrific communal riots” and “its refusal to toe the government line had incurred this suspension from the central government by framing charges in the order like criticism to the Delhi Police and RSS”, they charged.

“The suspension was lifted 12 hours after lifting the suspension of the other channel,” they added.

The Information and Broadcasting Ministry revoked the license of MediaOne on January 31, citing national security concerns raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Also read: Dangerous Country for Journalists’, India’s Press Freedom Rank Is 142, It Rules Make It Worse

The Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd, which operates the news channel, then moved the Kerala high court challenging the Union government’s decision.

Hearing the matter on February 8, the high court upheld the Union government’s decision to bar the telecast of MediaOne, saying denial of security clearance to the Malayalam news channel by the MHA was “justified”.

On February 9, Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd, some of its employees and a journalists’ union filed separate appeals in the high court against its single judge’s order.

After hearing both sides on February 10, the double bench of the high court reserved its judgement in the appeals filed before it.

“We hope that in the current instance as well subsequent judicial proceedings will protect the channel’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and restore the transmission license of MediaOne News,” the parliamentarians, editors and other eminent people said in their statement

The freedom of the press is essential to the health of any democracy and the central government “must not” be allowed to abuse its powers to curb critical voices and television news channels “that dare to question the official narrative”, they added.

Addressing a press conference virtually, chairman of the The Hindu expressed solidarity with MediaOne and its employees, saying what has been done by the government with the news channel is “outrageous”.

“It is a flagrant attack on media freedom and fundamental rights as well… We have seen attacks on press, on fundamental rights, before. But other than period of the Emergency which was short lived I have not come across anything of this scale,” he said.

He also expressed concern over the “sealed cover jurisprudence” adopted by the courts and hoped that justice would be done with the channel.

Senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who is one of the signatories, said the freedom of press in the country is under “severe threat” under the current dispensation.

The government denied security clearance to MediaOne without giving an explanation even as the news channel has “an excellent reputation”, he said.

(PTI)