Lifting of ban by SC is victory for democracy, says MediaOne Editor

Here’s what the judges said, and a timeline of the case

press freedom
“The restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent," said the judges. Image: iStock

The judgment of a Supreme Court bench comprising CJI DY Chandrachud and justice Hima Kohli, lifting the telecast ban on Malayalam television channel MediaOne, is seen to uphold the freedom of press and its significance in a democratic system.

Many senior journalists and Opposition politicians welcomed the SC verdict, terming it a landmark judgment on the freedom of media and freedom of expression in general as well.

“Justice has prevailed, and it’s a victory for democracy,” said Pramod Raman, the Editor of the channel. “It’s a relief for the entire media community that the court has given such a clear verdict that freedom of press is paramount in a democratic system,” he told The Federal.

“(I) welcome this landmark Supreme Court of India’s judgment authored by CJI DY Chandrachud. Warmest congratulations to MediaOne and to my friend, upstanding Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave, and his legal team for this signal victory,” tweeted The Hindu’s N Ram.

What the court said

The court, while giving out its ruling, said: “An independent press is vital for the robust functioning of a democratic republic. Its role in the democratic society is crucial, for it shines a light on the functioning of the state. The press has a duty to speak truth and present citizens with hard facts, enabling them to make choices that prepare democracy in the right direction. 

“The restriction on the freedom of the press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. A homogenised view on issues that range from socioeconomic polity to political ideologies would pose grave dangers to democracy.” 

Referring to the charges made by the Union government, the judges noted that favouring minorities, or critiquing laws such as the UAPA, NRC or CAA, or institutions such as the judiciary and executive, cannot be proof of terrorist links.

The government’s argument that the channel has links with the Jamaat e Islami Hind (JEIH) also did not hold water in the court. “Allegations that MediaOne is linked to JEIH are fallacious and JEIH is not a banned organisation. No material to show that MediaOne officeholders are shareholders of JEIH,” said the judges.

Kerala High Court slammed

The SC came down heavily on the Kerala High Court’s order upholding the cancellation of the channel’s licence.

“The High Court did not disclose the reasons for the denial of security clearance. There is no explanation of what weighed in the mind of the High Court leading it to hold that the denial of clearance was justified despite observing that the nature and gravity of the issue is not discernible from the files. The sealed-cover procedure, followed by the single judge and the division belch, have necessarily rendered the appellant’s right to remedies, which has been described as the heart and soul of the Constitution and a basic feature of the Constitution, a dry parchment,” said the SC.

“The mere involvement of issues concerning national security would not preclude the state’s duty to act fairly. If the state discards its duty to act fairly, then it must be justified before the court and the facts of the case. Firstly, the state must satisfy the court that national security concerns are involved,” ruled the bench.

Timeline of the case

  1. On January 31, 2023, the channel was taken off air. On February 8, a single-judge of the Kerala High Court, Justice Nagaresh, upheld the decision of the I&B Ministry to revoke the Malayalam channel’s licence, ruling against the appeal given by the channel.
  2. The court was convinced that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had sufficient grounds to refuse the channel’s security clearance, according to material provided to the court in a sealed cover.
  3. The Union government had declined to specify what the MHA’s concerns were and argued that natural justice principles could not be insisted upon in a situation involving national security.
  4. MediaOne and the Kerala Union for Working Journalists filed an appeal in the division bench challenging the single judge’s order.
  5. The Union government told the division bench of the High Court that it had evidence to back its concerns on national security that prompted the decision to revoke the licence, during the hearing of the appeal against this order.
  6. The division bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly then upheld the single-judge’s decision, and the channel moved the Supreme Court.
  7. On March 13, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath issued a stay order for the ban on the channel, ruling that it could run the channel in the same manner in which it was being operated before revocation of security clearance.