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‘Critical views can't be termed anti-establishment,’ says Supreme Court as it lifts MediaOne’s telecast ban

Observing that State can't impose unreasonable restrictions on press, a bench headed by CJI DY Chandrachud set aside the Kerala HC order which upheld the Centre's decision to ban the channel's telecast on security grounds

The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the Centre's telecast ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne and pulled up the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for raising national security claims in "thin air" without facts, as per a report by NewsDrum.

Observing that the State can't impose unreasonable restrictions on press as it would have a chilling effect on press freedom, a bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud set aside the Kerala High Court order which had upheld the Centre's decision to ban the channel's telecast on security grounds.

The top court said critical views of the channel against government policies cannot be termed as anti-establishment as an independent press is necessary for a robust democracy.

"Press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction. The restriction on freedom of press compels citizens to think along the same tangent. Homogenised views on issues that range from socio-economic polity to political ideologies would pose great dangers to democracy," the bench said, adding that non-renewal of license for a channel is a restriction on the right to freedom of speech.

The top court said the alleged link of the channel's shareholders to Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is not a legitimate ground to restrict the rights of the channel.

It said the State is using national security as a tool to deny citizens remedies that are provided under the law.

"National security claims cannot be made out of thin air, there must be material facts backing it," the bench said.

Non-disclosure of reasons for denial of security reasons and disclosure only to court in sealed cover has violated principles of natural justice, the bench, also comprising of Justice Hima Kohli, said.

"Sealed cover procedure cannot be introduced to cover harms that cannot be remedied by public immunity proceedings," the bench said.

The apex court said courts should appoint an amicus curiae to assess the claims of confidentiality and assist the court in coming out with a reasoned order.

The apex court was hearing the plea of the news channel against the Kerala HC's order which had upheld the Centre's decision to ban its telecast on security grounds.

The top court had on March 15, in an interim order, stayed until further directions the January 31 directive of the Centre revoking the licence of the news channel and banning its telecast on security grounds.

It had said the news and current affairs channel would continue its operations as it was operating prior to the ban of telecast.

The top court had passed the order after perusing the files filed by the Centre on the basis of which security clearance was revoked and the Kerala HC had passed the order upholding the ban on telecast.

It had left the question open on whether the content of files on the basis of which the ban order was passed be given to the channel to enable it to defend itself.

The Kerala HC had upheld the Centre's decision to bar telecast of the Malayalam news channel and dismissed the plea of Madhyamam Broadcasting -- which operates MediaOne -- challenging the central government's January 31 decision.

The HC had said the decision of the MHA to deny security clearance was based on intelligence inputs received from various agencies.

The channel had contended that MHA clearance was only required at the time for fresh permission/licence and not at the time of renewal.

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