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Malayalam news channel MediaOne says in SC, bias possible in judge's mind if sealed-cover affidavits entertained

Malayalam news channel MediaOne says in SC, bias possible in judges mind if sealed-cover affidavits entertained

New Delhi: The Malayalam news channel "MediaOne" argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the channel has never violated the programme code and that a security clearance from the Center is not required for the renewal of a broadcast licence.

The news station was represented by senior attorney Dushyant Dave, who argued before a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli that the government did not have omnibus discretion to impose any new conditions and emphasised the importance of press freedom.

Dave said the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 does not contemplate any requirement of security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs for the renewal of broadcast licence. He said the Act itself provides certain conditions which need to be fulfilled like the interest of the sovereignty, and security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, incitement of offence, decency and morality, and contempt of court. "There is not a single instance when we violated the programme code," he said.

Criticising the government practice of filing affidavits in a sealed cover, Dave submitted that the court should consider laying a law on this. He added that in the name of national security, these affidavits are filed behind the back of opposite parties and it also creates a bias in the minds of judges.

Citing the practice in the West, Dave said when this kind of material dealing with national security comes before the court, it appoints a neutral person to have a look into it and assist the court.

He further added that affidavits in sealed cover were being filed behind the back of other parties even after the arguments were completed in the case.

Dave argued that the government cannot put any new conditions, and the channel is not eligible for registration and renewal of license only if the conditions in Act are not fulfilled.

The top court was informed that the Act provides that renewal will be considered after a period of 10 years, subject to the condition that the channel should not have been found violating the programme code on five occasions.

The bench noted that renewal is like a grant of license at the initial level, which gives it uplinking rights for a fresh period of 10 years.

Dave said the renewal position has general terms and conditions which does not say anything about the need for security clearances and added the government does not have omnibus discretion in imposing any new condition.

The top court will continue to hear the matter on Wednesday.

It is hearing a plea by the news channel challenging the Kerala High Court's order upholding the Centre's decision to ban its telecast on security grounds.

Media One had moved the top court after the Kerala High Court upheld the ban imposed on it by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

On March 15 this year, the Supreme Court stayed the Centre's ban on the news channel. The Central government had cited national security grounds to justify the ban.

The division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chali noted that when certain issues with respect to the security of the state are concerned, the government is at liberty to decline to renew the permission granted, without disclosing the complete reasons for the non-renewal. The high court, on March 2, had dismissed the appeals filed by the channel's management and journalists challenging a February 9 single-bench order, which refused to lift the ban.

With inputs from IANS

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TAGS:supreme courtMedia One
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