Media One is a Malayalam news channel. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, on January 31st cancelled the broadcasting license of the Media One channel. The channel’s license was revoked after the home ministry raised security issues against the channel and denied them security clearance.
What is the Media One license issue?
Media One is operating since 2013. The channel’s license to broadcast was going to expire in September 2021. In May 2021, the channel applied for a renewal of its license to the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but the license’s renewal was cancelled based on home ministry’s advice. Under the current guidelines, the Union Ministry has to give security clearance before such a renewal. In this case, the home ministry denied this clearance by sending them a letter. Subsequently, the channel was issued a show cause notice by the broadcasting ministry asking why its license should not be cancelled. The notice, when it was received by the channel, it did not provide for any reasons. The notice simply said that the security clearance is provided based on parameter’s set by home ministry. The channel said that they have not been informed why the security clearance is denied and they asked the government not to penalize the channel.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting informed Media One, on 31ST January that its license renewal request has been denied.
The Editor of Media One, Pramod Raman said in a statement -
"The telecast of Media One Channel, has once again been denied by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, stating security reasons. The Government has not been forthcoming with the details,"
Suspension of Media One in 2020
The broadcast of Media One is being suspended for the second time. The first time the Media One channel got suspended was in 2020. In 2020, the channel got suspended for covering the Delhi riots.
Senior advocate K Rakesh and advocate S Sreekumar said that the order was received around 1pm and by 1.45 pm a plea was filed with the Kerala High Court, which granted permission for urgent hearing on the matter. Assistant Solicitor General S Manu, who appeared for the ministry, said he opposed the plea and sought time from the court to get appropriate instructions from the Centre. The lawyers told the high court that the channel was not involved in any antinational activity and urged it to direct the ministry to remove the order. The court has put the order on hold till Wednesday. The channel went off air at 12pm on Monday and resumed transmission at 7pm after the court’s stay on the order.
What did the Kerala High Court say on the particular issue?
After the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting cancelled the license of the Media One channel, the channel challenged the Ministry’s action before the Kerala High Court.
The channel argued in the court that the government must have informed them as to why the security clearance is denied and give the channel at least an opportunity to be heard before cancelling their license. They further said that they are not involved in any anti- national activities and has made significant investments in the business. A lot of petitions were filed in the Supreme Court for the investigation of the matter. However, the government tried hard to block them using national security as a reason.
In October, the Supreme Court formed a committee to investigate further about the matter. Also further, the Media One argued that the revocation was an infringement of its rights under Article 19[a] of the Constitution of India, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, and Article 19[g], which guarantees freedom to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. The employees of the channel also had petitioned in the court, stating that if the license of the channel was not renewed, more than 300 of them would be put through economic hardship.
The Union government argued that in cases of national security, the strict observance of the principles of natural justice could not be insisted upon. They also stated that the freedom of press is not absolute and there could be reasonable restrictions on grounds such as the security of the nation. The channel was banned for the second time on January 31st, 2022.
On February 8, 2022, that is on the subsequent hearing, the High Court upheld the decision of home ministry. The Court agreed to suspend the license and held the action of the ministry valid. However, the High Court also did not give reasons for its upholding. It is on the grounds of “national security” that the single-judge bench supported the government’s decision to ban the news channel in its judgment delivered on February 8.
The Court’s decision –
Citing precedents laid down by the Supreme Court in various landmark judgments, the Kerala High Court noted the importance of freedom of the press in a democratic society. The Court agreed with the government that there could be reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech.
Press freedom “is a valuable and sacred right” enshrined in our Constitution of India, the judge said. Any modern democracy needs freedom of the press not only for its effective functioning but also for functional discussions required for a democracy.
But under Article 19 of the Constitution of India, freedom of the press is also subject to reasonable restrictions, the court said. National security is one of the grounds on the basis of which such reasonable restrictions can be imposed, the judgment said. “Reasonability of a restriction is used in qualitative, quantitative and relative sense.”
This article is written by Manasi Khadilkar, of Gopaldas Jhamatmal Advani Law College.