SC says critical views on government policies not anti-establishment

SC says critical views on government policies not anti-establishment

News: Supreme Court lifts telecast ban on Malayam channel Media One; says unguided and ad hoc use of sealed covers infringe natural justice and open justice.

 The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refused to renew the broadcast licence of the news channel on the ground that the Ministry of Home Affairs had declined (based on IB report) security clearance over alleged links with the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind (JEIH).
 The channel approached the Kerala HC against the Centre’s action, which had upheld the ban on the channel on the grounds of national security. The government is at liberty to decline to renew the permission granted without disclosing complete reasons for the non-renewal.
 The SC set aside the Kerala HC order and directed that the licence be renewed in four weeks’ time.

What did the promoters of Media one had to say?
 The promoters argued that they were not given a chance to defend themselves as the national security reasons were submitted to the HC in a sealed cover (in the public interest).
 The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression [Article 19(1)(a)], which includes press freedom, can be restricted under Article 19(2) and there was no allegation that the channel violated the Program Code.

What did the SC observe?
 The critical views about government policies cannot be termed anti-establishment. The use of such a terminology betrays an expectation that the Press must support the establishment. An independent Press is vital for the robust functioning of the democratic republic.
 The top court was critical of the sealed cover procedure adopted in the HC and the “cavalier manner” in which the Centre raised the claim of national security.
 It would be impracticable and unwise for the courts to define the phrase national security.
 National security claims cannot be made out of thin air and there must be material backing such inference.
 National security is being used as a tool by the government to deny people legal recourse which is not compatible with the rule of law.
 JEIH is not a banned organisations and it is unclear how links with the organisation would affect the sovereignty and integrity, security of the state, etc.

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