MediaOne case: SC queries Centre on non-disclosure of reasons for denying security clearance

The Supreme Court on Wednesday queried Centre on the non-disclosure of reasons for denying security clearance to Malayalam news channel ‘MediaOne’.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli told Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Centre, that in court proceedings, if one party relies on something then it should be disclosed to the opposite party.

Noting that the authority granting the broadcast licence is different from the authority revoking the licence on the ground of security, it queried the ASG as to what is the remedy for the citizen, who is denied permission? The court pointed out that Centre did not call them offenders but it revoked their license.

It further added that the court understands there are sources which cannot be disclosed, but the opposite party can at least have access to the redacted copy of the material.

“You can’t straight away deny the other party information on which you are arriving at a conclusion,” the bench told Nataraj.

The bench said for a media house license renewal is important as it has made investment, employed people, and the market reputation is at risk.

After a detailed hearing in the matter, the top court asked Nataraj to seek instructions on its queries and scheduled the matter for further hearing on Thursday.

On Tuesday, ‘MediaOne’ told the Supreme Court that there is not a single instance when the channel violated the programme code and security clearance from the Centre is not needed for renewal of broadcast licence.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the news channel, contended that the government does not have omnibus discretion to impose any new condition and emphasised on the aspect of freedom of press.

Dave said the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 does not contemplate any requirement of security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs for the renewal of broadcast licence. He said the Act itself provides certain conditions which need to be fulfilled like interest of sovereignty, and security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, incitement of offence, decency and morality, and contempt of court. “There is not a single instance when we violated the programme code,” he said.

Criticising government filing affidavits in sealed-cover, Dave submitted that the court should consider laying a law on the practice of sealed cover affidavits adopted by the government. He added that in the name of national security, these affidavits are filed behind the back of opposite parties and also create a bias in the minds of judges.

The top court is hearing a plea by the news channel challenging the Kerala High Court’s order upholding the Centre’s decision to ban its telecast on security grounds.

On March 15 this year, the Supreme Court stayed the Centre’s ban on the Malayalam TV news channel. The Central government had cited national security grounds to justify the ban.

Media One had moved the top court after the Kerala High Court upheld the ban imposed on it by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

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