‘Freedom of press not absolute’: What Kerala HC said while upholding MediaOne ban

The Union government barred the channel on January 31, and the revoking of its licence has been upheld by the Kerala HC on February 8.
MediaOne channel
MediaOne channel
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The Kerala High Court that has upheld the Union government's decision of revoking the licence of Malayalam television channel MediaOne, has stated that the intelligence agencies found inputs of serious nature about the company that comes under the security rating parameters. The High Court (HC) on Tuesday, February 8 dismissed the plea filed by Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited, which operates the channel and upheld the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry’s ban.

“From the files produced before this Court, it is discernible that the Committee of Officers (of the Ministry of Home Affairs) took note of the inputs given by the intelligence agencies as regards the petitioner-Company, and found that the inputs are of a serious nature and falls under the security rating parameters. In the circumstances, the Committee of Officers advised not to renew the licence. This Court finds that the recommendations of the Committee of Officers as finally accepted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, are justified by supporting materials,” the judgment reads.

The judgment further stated that while considering the issue involved in these writ petitions, this Court is of the view that Rule 6 of the Cable Television Networks Rules providing for the Program Code parameters is relevant. “Rule 6 provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service, which contains criticism of friendly countries, contents likely to encourage or incite violence or anything against maintenance of law and order or which promote anti-national attitudes, contains aspersions against the integrity of the President and Judiciary, etc.”

The HC cited a judgment of the Supreme Court, which said that freedom of the press is not absolute.

“In the judgment of Re Harijai Singh case, the apex court observed that freedom of the press is not absolute, unlimited and unfettered at all times and that in all circumstances giving an unrestricted freedom of the speech and expression would amount to an uncontrolled license. If it were wholly free even from reasonable restraints, it would lead to disorder and anarchy. The freedom is not to be misunderstood as to be a press free to disregard its duty to be responsible. The element of responsibility must be present in the conscience of the journalists. In an organised society, the rights of the press have to be recognized with its duties and responsibilities towards the society. Public order, decency, morality and such other things must be safeguarded,” the judgment reads.

The channel, which has gone off air after the HC’s judgment of Tuesday, said that it will soon approach the Division Bench.

“In the case of the petitioner herein, the context is totally different. The issue in respect of the petitioner Company should be decided with reference to the judgment of the Apex Court in Manohar Lal Sharma v. Union of India [2021 Supreme (SC) 628]. In the said judgment, the Hon'ble Apex Court observed that it is a settled position of law that the matters pertaining to national security, the scope of judicial review is limited. However, this does not mean that the State gets a free pass every time the specter of 'national security' is raised. National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning. Though the court should be circumspect in encroaching upon the domain of national security, no omnibus prohibition can be called for against judicial review,” the judgment reads.

The court also stated that though the counsel of the petitioner argued that the appellant was not afforded any opportunity of hearing before cancelling the permission and therefore the impugned cancellation order is rendered bad in law having been passed without following the principle of natural justice and fair play, “we find no merit in this submission," the judgment reads.

The Union government barred the telecast of MediaOne on January 31. The channel’s licence was not renewed based on an order by the I&B Ministry. The I&B Ministry had cited 'security concerns' as the reason behind the order. Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited operates the channel and many of its investors are members of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

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