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Case of Media One: Didn’t the government have to inform the channel why the security nod was denied?

MediaOne TV went off air on January 31.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked whether the Centre should have communicated the reasons for denying security clearance to the Malayalam channel Media One.

Earlier this year, the Union government refused to renew the uplinking permission for the Jamaat-e-Islami-owned channel citing national security concerns.

According to Justice D Y Chandrachud, presided over by a two-judge bench on Wednesday, “you are not saying that they have committed a crime under the law.”. Even when a crime is committed under the law, and a charge sheet is filed after an investigation, the essence of the inquiry is disclosed in the charge sheet. No matter how sensitive your research may be, once you have completed and filed a charge sheet, the charge sheet reveals the material on which an offence has been registered. There is still a long way to go before we reach that point. You deny a security clearance here.”

Additional Solicitor General K M Nataraj asserted that the details were sensitive and could not be shared with the channel management. According to him, security information cannot be disclosed to third parties.

In its decision, the court said the government could redact the details to protect the information’s sources and ask if the data can be denied.

You may say, for example, that one of your directors has nefarious connections, that ownership does not belong to Indian citizens but to citizens of a hostile nation, etc. The Ministry of Home Affairs may have sources of information it must protect. However, can you deny the news based on which you draw this conclusion? The judge inquired.

In addition to Justice Hima Kohli, the bench heard an appeal by the channel against the Kerala High Court decision upholding the government’s refusal to renew the license.

Channel 5 alleged that the High Court relied on some sealed documents produced by the government in arriving at its decision and that it was not provided with access to these documents.

In his request, Nataraj urged the top court bench to examine the material in a sealed cover, but the court responded: “The question is whether this can be done ex parte without them? As a principle, any material relied upon by one party must be disclosed to the other party.”

“Take a look at how our law has evolved. If a person is detained under the National Security Act based on the ground that his conduct violates national security, you must specify the grounds for the detention. As far as your order is concerned, it only states that the MHA has denied security clearance. They must understand what constitutes a breach of national security. It is possible to protect your sources of information. What is that information you must necessarily disclose,” said Justice Chandrachud?

During the hearing, the bench stated that it was only voicing its doubts and that the ASG could look into them and respond when he continues his arguments on Thursday.

In addition, he stated that if they are engaged in international hawala transactions, you must say that you are aware that they are involved in such transactions. It is not sufficient to state that you have been denied security clearance.

According to the court, as this case pertains to the renewal of a license rather than the grant, the threshold must be higher.

“This is a renewal case. The renewal process is critical because, when a channel comes up for renewal of permission, it has invested some money, has been operating for ten years, has employees, has some goodwill in the market, and has a particular reputation.

During the hearing, the bench stated that it was only voicing its doubts and that the ASG could look into them and respond when he continues his arguments on Thursday.

According to Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, relying on documents that have not been shown to the other party will create “dangerous precedents.”

He argued that the right to freedom of speech and expression, which includes the press release, can only be restricted on the grounds outlined in Article 19(2) and submitted that no allegation had been made that the channel violated the Program Code.

‘My only crime appears to be that members of a minority community own this channel,’ Dave said. He added that the channel is “widely respected” and that “everyone participates in our news programs, regardless of party affiliations or civil society affiliations.

According to Dave, anyone can be condemned by the Home Ministry with just one word.

During his appearance for the Kerala Union of Working Journalists, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi also targeted the Ministry of Home Affairs. Apparently, the government’s procedure was flawed, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting only acted as a post office.

“They gave me a notice based on the directives of the MHA. I responded. It is also a diktat of the MHA. The MHA did not even wish to hear me. It’s an extraordinary procedure..”.

An SC interim order was issued in March, allowing the channel to broadcast.

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