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'Trend Chokes Press Freedom': MediaOne Moves Kerala HC Against Ban Verdict

In its appeal, MediaOne has challenged the reliability of these intelligence reports that the single-judge bench of Justice Nagaresh cited in the order upholding the Union government's ban.

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New Delhi: Malayalam news channel MediaOne has moved an appeal before the Kerala high court against the single-judge bench’s order upholding the Union government’s ban on it.

The government’s decision to ban it from broadcasting came without giving the channel the chance to examine or challenge the “national security” grounds on which it had been denied clearance.

A division bench of Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly said that it will be taken up tomorrow, February 10, reported LiveLaw.

MediaOne has challenged the high court’s position that the Pegasus judgment of the Supreme Court in which it held that national security could not be a “bugbear that the judiciary shies away from” is not relevant in this case.

“I am not inclined to extend the interim order even for an hour since national security is involved,” Kerala high court judge, Justice Nagaresh, said, on February 8.

In its appeal, MediaOne has spoken of governments’ decision to quell media’s criticism of its functionings.

“[In] Yesteryears the government was tolerant to fair criticism, but the recent trend is alarming as it chokes the freedom of press and right to speech. Herein after no news channel will dare to broadcast any programme against the sweet will of the government as it may not be inconvenient for the government to forbid the channel by managing Intelligence reports and other materials,” MediaOne has noted in its appeal.

MediaOne is owned by the Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, many investors of which are members of the Kerala chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Union government had earlier issued permission enabling MediaOne channel to uplink and downlink television programmes. This permission, issued on September 30, 2011, was valid for 10 years – till September 29, 2021. The company applied for permission to be renewed for another 10 years in May 2021. On December 29, 2021, the Union home minister denied security clearance to it.

On January 5, 2022, MediaOne was reportedly sent a show-cause notice by the Union government. In it, it asked why the government should not revoke MediaOne’s license, considering “national security and public order.”

In response, the company had requested the opportunity to be heard and noted it was not informed of the reasons why the security clearance was denied in the first place.

However, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting allegedly revoked security clearance without offering an opportunity for a hearing or informing MediaOne of the reasons why it was denying the channel permission to air.

“Going through the files, I find that the ministry has called for intelligence inputs. Based on the intelligence inputs, the committee of officers has found that security clearance should not be given. The Ministry has decided to accept the finding of the Committee of Officers. There are inputs justifying the denial of security clearance. Therefore I am dismissing the writ petition,” the judge said.

In its appeal, MediaOne has challenged the reliability of these intelligence reports that Justice Nagaresh has cited.

“It is in this context relevant to note that the reliability of the referred to intelligence report is also suspected and the so called consideration by the committee, without even affording any opportunity of hearing to the appellant is unconstitutional,” it notes.

The appeal also highlights that the single judge did not consider the fact that at the time of renewal of broadcasting license, no fresh security clearance is required as the relevant provisions are Section 10 of the uplinking policy guidelines and Section 9 of the downlinking guidelines.

LiveLaw has further reported that the appeal contends that the reliance placed by the single judge on ‘Atrisamhitha‘ is improper “as the issue involved should have been adjudicated strictly in tune with the constitutional parameters; not by quoting archaic Vedic verses.”

Following the high court order, media and political fraternity in Kerala on Tuesday staged a protest in front of the Raj Bhavan at Thiruvananthapuram, against the ban on the channel.

Left Democratic Front (LDF) convener A. Vijayaraghavan, former Kerala Congress president V.M. Sudheeran, and CPI leader Pannyan Raveendaran participated, among others.