“Press has a duty to speak truth to power”: Supreme Court quashes Centre’s ban on MediaOne channel

NEW DELHI — Supreme Court has quashed order of Ministry Of Information Refusing to renew its broadcast license for want of security clearance to Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV.

The top court ruled against the telecast ban imposed by the Union Government on one of the leading Malayalam news channels. It directed the Ministry to issue renewal license to the channel within four weeks.

“There is no explanation on what weighed with the High Court in holding the decision is valid,” bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said, Live Law reported.

“The State is using the plea of national security to deny the rights of the citizens. This is incompatible with the rule of law…The mere involvement of issues relating to national security will not allow the State to not act fairly…The sealed cover procedure adopted has rendered the rights of the petitioner as a dry parchment and the procedural guarantees to the petitioners have been rendered otiose,” the bench observed.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs had relied on reports of the channel on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), criticism of judiciary, State etc. to state that it is an anti-establishment, the apex court said these are not justifiable grounds to refuse renewal of its broadcast license.

“Press has a duty to speak truth to power and inform citizens about hard facts. The critical views of the channel against the govt policies cannot be termed as anti-establishment. This view presumes that press should always support the govt. An independent press is necessary for a robust democracy. The criticism of the policies of the govt cannot be stretched to mean any of the grounds under Article 19(2) which can restrict free speech,” it said.

It went on to say: “Sealed cover procedure cannot be introduced to cover harms that cannot be remedies by public immunity proceedings…Principles of natural justice may be excluded when interests of national security outweighs. But a blanket immunity from disclosure cannot be granted…Sealed cover procedure infringe the principles of natural justice and open justice.”

Mediaone TV is the only Muslim-owned private satellite channel in India.

Global journalist bodies, Opposition leaders and media fraternity across the country had backed the channel and called out the Union government’s action “arbitrary”.

In March 2020, the Union govt imposed a 48-hour ban on MediaOne for its reportage on the Delhi pogrom alleging “channel seems to be critical towards Delhi Police and RSS.”

MediaOne TV had gone off air on January 31 last year after the Union suspended its telecast citing “security reasons.” On March 15, 2022, the apex court had passed an interim order allowing the channel to continue its operations pending the final decision.