MediaOne TV ban unconstitutional, channel tells Supreme Court

The Malayalam-language news channel MediaOne TV has filed a rejoinder before the Supreme Court of India, saying Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s last year January’s order, which had suspended the broadcast of the news channel is “violative of Article 14, 19 (1) (a) and 21st of the Constitution of India.”

MediaOne TV has been functioning since 2011 and has never violated any provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 or the up-linking and down-linking guidelines or any other laws/regulations regulating broadcasting of channels, it said to the apex court.

MediaOne TV further claimed that the channel is 4th in viewership among Malayalam news channels as per BARC data.

On YouTube, the channel is one amongst the top 3 of 9 mainstream Malayalam news channels with a viewership of 1.06 billion according to Social Blade data for the year 2021-2022 with a subscription of 4.14 million subscribers. On Facebook, the channel is ranked number 1 out of 9 mainstream Malayalam channels with a viewership of 1.11 billion a year as per crowd tangle data for the year 2021-2022, it said to the top court.

The channel also claimed that under the policy guidelines there is no requirement of security clearance at the stage of renewal.

“The information in the files not shown to the petitioners who were not given an opportunity to meet the same. The impugned action was thus contrary to the principle of natural justice,” read the affidavit.

“The Division Bench itself records that “too many details are not available” and that the nature, impact, gravity and depth is not discernible from the files. Fundamental rights cannot be denied on such an arbitrary hypothesis,” the affidavit said.

“To summarize, under the Regulatory framework, a security check is conducted and consequently a ‘security clearance’ is provided for grant of an initial license for ‘uplinking’ (relayed from broadcaster to satellite) and for ‘downlinking’ (broadcast from satellite to homes). Such licenses were granted to the Petitioner’s subject channel after due diligence as early as 30.09.2011. [Pages 64, 66 SLP] and they have been broadcasting without any problems for the last 10 years, with the exception of a single day on 06.03.20, when the government ordered the Petitioner to suspend broadcast, and then modified its order on the following day. [Page 106 and 113 SLP],” the affidavit noted.

They went on to say: “We are therefore of opinion ‘that unless a law restricting freedom of speech and expression is directed solely against the undermining of the security of the State or the overthrow of it, such law cannot fall within the reservation under clause (2) of article 19, although the restrictions which it seeks to impose may have been conceived generally in the interests of public order.
It follows that section 9(1-A) which authorises imposition of restrictions for the wider purpose of securing public safety or the maintenance of public order falls outside the scope of authorised restrictions under clause (2), and is therefore void and unconstitutional.”

In June, the Union government had informed the Supreme Court that the denial of security clearance to MediaOne TV is based on intelligence inputs, which are “sensitive” and “secret in nature”. It also said that as a matter of policy and in the interest of security of the state and its establishments, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) does not disclose the reasons for denial.

The affidavit was filed by the Ministry of Information of Broadcasting in response to the appeal by the news channel against the Kerala High Court order dismissing its plea challenging the denial of security clearance and telecast ban ordered by the Union government.

The Union government said that the renewal of permission for a TV channel is not a matter of right for a company and such permission is granted only upon fulfilment of certain eligibility conditions as stipulated, inter alia, under the uplinking and downlinking guidelines and other relevant statutory framework. It also said that the submission of the company (Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd) that there is no requirement of security clearance at the time of renewal is incorrect and only an afterthought.

On March 15, the top court had stayed till further orders the January 31 directive of the Union government revoking the licence of Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV and banning its telecaston grounds of national security. It had said that the news and current affairs channel will continue in the way it was operating prior to the ban of telecast.