news Tuesday, June 09, 2015 - 05:30
  After the news of Ministry of Home Affairs’s denial of security clearance to Sun TV network’s TV channels broke, the company witnessed a bloodbath at Bombay stock exchange, losing up to 28% of its share value before eventually picking up marginally. If reports are to be believed, there is no immediate reprieve in sight for the company. The MHA is said to have put its foot down on its decision stating three criminal cases against the brothers, and there is little the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting can do about this. But the Marans are unfazed, and are all set to take on the government. It is not the first time this has happened, and even if the government’s case is strong on certain aspects, Marans’ legal counsel have told The News Minute that any step towards a total shut down of Sun TV channels will only open a Pandora’s box of conflict between lenient interpretation of security clearance guidelines and the freedom to do business in India. This is the third time MHA is denying security clearance to companies either owned by or linked to the Maran brothers. Last year, the MHA denied security clearance to Kal Cables, the Multi System Operator belonging to the Maran family. Importantly, neither of the Maran brothers were directors or key executives in Kal Cables, the company held by other family members. Kal Cables went to court against the decision, and won. Few weeks ago, several radio stations from the Sun stable were also denied clearance. And now, the MHA has targeted their TV channels. But so far, no notice has been issued to the Sun TV network and the channel is still on-air. Sources familiar with the ongoing tussle say that the MIB is not very happy with the MHA’s decision. So, how do the Marans plan to counter the MHA in court, if they have to? According to sources in the Marans’ legal team, they will be challenging the Kal Cables MHC judgment, and take on the government head-on. First, the Marans could claim the opportunity to be deemed innocent until proven guilty. When none of the charges against them have been proved, how can their companies and employees be asked to pay the price for it, asks a source close to Marans. Their legal strategy will include countering ‘unsubstantiated’ allegations made against Marans in the MHC judgment. Secondly, even if charges against them are proved, the Marans will question the very idea that cases against them add up to a threat to national security. “How are cases on Prevention of Corruption Act and ED investigations be a threat to national security? What is the definition of ‘threat to national security’?” asks the source. Thirdly, the ‘duplicity’ of the MHA and MIB will also be questioned. “Several other channels and industrial conglomerates have cases against them. One of them even has an Official Secrets Act case against their executive. If he is convicted, then will the channels belonging to the group be asked to shut down?” asks a senior official of Sun TV network. This could even be extended to publishing houses, say legal experts. But it might not be a smooth ride for the Marans in court. The Madras High Court’s verdict in Kal Cables case is going to play an important role in the present case, if and when Marans go to court appealing against the decision of the MHA. Although the verdict was in favour of Kal Cables, there were several aspects of the judgment which will now stand against the Marans, but were not appealed against then since the verdict was in their favour. In his verdict delivered in September 2014, Justice V Ramasubramanian says that there are “allegations of gross abuse of official position, adoption of corrupt practices of incomprehensible nature to make unlawful pecuniary gains of unprecedented proportions, amassing of wealth of unimaginable scales and the registration of regular criminal cases against the promoters of the company. May be a time has come to hold that the abuse of official position by a person in power and the amassing of wealth of unimaginable proportions, is also an assault on the Security of the State. Economic aggression may soon become more dangerous than military aggression.” Having said so, the judge ruled in favour of Kal Cables for four main reasons. One, neither of the Maran brothers was a Director or Key Executive in the company, so allegations against them cannot be held against the company. Two, the judge argues that if TV channels belonging to Marans were given security clearance, then the MSO cannot be denied the same. Third, the role of an MSO is like the newspaper-delivery man, they just take the content to end-users, not create it. So concerns of national security with an MSO are minimal. Finally, the court also said that if the company is to be given an opportunity to be heard against suspension of licenses according to law, then the Ministry cannot cancel licenses without doing so. At least three of the above reasons go against the Marans. Kalanithi Maran is a key executive and direct shareholder in Sun TV Network. The case now is against TV channels, not the MSOs and since TV channels produce content and thereby have a greater influence over people than MSOs, this judgment could actually be quoted against the Marans now.  Further, the judge says that his order cannot be used to stop the government from taking action against the television channels belonging to the Marans. This could prove to be a major roadblock for the case. The industry is not happy with such a move either. An executive in a major media networks who liaisons with MIB on a daily basis has told The News Minute that there is consensus in the industry that the action against Sun Network is arbitrary, and media conglomerates are concerned that they could also be targeted in the future using convenient interpretation of security guidelines. “The Modi government is talking of improving Ease of Doing Business parameters. Is this how you make it easy for businesses, by using arcane security guidelines to cancel licenses?” asks the liaison officer.
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