Media One case | Supreme Court directs Centre to produce internal files

Centre had refused to renew licence of Kerala-based channel on grounds of national security

March 10, 2022 01:38 pm | Updated 01:44 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on March 10 ordered the Centre to produce the “relevant files” based on which it refused to renew the licence of Kerala-based Media One TV channel on the grounds of “national security and public order”.

A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud issued formal notice to the government on an appeal filed by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, the media company that runs the channel. The court listed the case for hearing on March 15.

The government will on March 15 have to respond on the interim relief sought by the channel to resume its broadcast.

The media company has challenged a Kerala High Court decision upholding the government’s move to not renew the licence of the TV channel.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, advocates Haris Beeran and Pallavi Pratap, for the channel, said the renewal of licence was “a matter of right” as it had not faced a single complaint from the government in the past 10 years of its existence.

“The government did not show any details based on which the decision was made to revoke my licence. They just wave the wand of national security,” Mr. Dave submitted.

“The government shall produce relevant files on which reliance was placed by the High Court in its judgment,” Justice Chandrachud observed in the order.

The government’s action has affected the livelihood of 350 journalists and raised seminal questions of law impinging on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as well as the importance of an independent, free and unbiased press guarantee by the Constitution, Mr. Dave said.

“Security of the State with regard to the media means nothing less than endangering the foundations of the State or threatening its overthrow,” the senior lawyer referred to the law laid down by the top court in its Romesh Thapar case judgment.

“We have to say something on this... Let them bring the files. We will see on March 15,” Justice Chandrachud responded.

The company noted that renewal of licence, governed by clauses nine and 10 of the uplinking and downlinking guidelines, does not require security clearance. Only fresh applicants for licence need the mandatory security clearance.

“The only factor to be looked into is as to whether the media company has violated any of the conditions or norms for five consecutive times in the last 10 years. It is submitted that as far as the petitioner is concerned, there is not a single complaint against the petitioner for which any action could be taken against the petitioner in the last 10 years,” the company’s petition submitted.

The media company said it could not put up an effective reply or rebut the show cause notice issued by the government because hardly any reasons were given in it.

The company has said the High Court’s Division Bench, which affirmed the earlier Single Bench decision in favour of the government, had merely said that there were “certain facts affecting public order or security of the State”. The company was also not given an opportunity to defend itself against the original files produced by the government in the High Court.

Referring to the recent Pegasus case order of the Supreme Court, the petition has said the State does not get a “free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’s is raised” in court.

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