Centre must not be allowed to abuse powers to curb critical voices: Media One News

The Caravan
14 February, 2022

In early February, the Malayalam news channel MediaOne News went off air after the ministry of home affairs refused security clearance for renewal of the channel’s licence. A statement by the organisation is reproduced below:

MediaOne News, a Kerala-based news and current affairs TV channel, suddenly and arbitrarily had its Uplinking & Downlinking license revoked by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting citing unspecified ‘national security’ concerns raised by the Ministry of Home Affairs. MediaOne News was originally granted a license for ten years on 30.09.2011 and has been operating as a Malayalam language news channel for the last nine years. Its application for a renewal of its license was rejected by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting because of the denial of security clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 31st January 2022 without specifying any concrete reasons and it has subsequently been off-air. 

MediaOne News is a very popular one in the state and has won many awards and accolades including that of the State Government. It has got a TV viewership of 15.4 million inside India and 3.2 million outside India. In digital platforms the viewership is even bigger like 1.8 billion inside India and 103.08 million outside India.

This arbitrary act of the MHA amounts to a violation of the Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, and also represents a clamp down on broader press freedom in India. We are also extremely disappointed by the decision of the single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court which refused to overturn the cancellation of MediaOne NEWS’s license by the MIB & MHA and protect the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. The decision of the single-judge bench of the Kerala High Court was based on a ‘sealed cover’ envelope provided by the MHA, the contents of which were not shared with MediaOne NEWS.

This goes against the basic principles of natural justice, which mandate that material evidence in any adjudication process, and especially in a matter concerning Fundamental Rights, must be shared with both parties to the dispute. We also feel that the Hon’ble Court failed in its bounden duty as a constitutional court by not providing the reasons behind its judgment, and instead reiterating the line of the MHA regarding ‘intelligence inputs’ and ‘national security’ concerns.

We cannot fail to note that in 2020 the Central Government had suspended MediaOne NEWS’s transmission for 48 hrs along with Asianet News, citing its coverage of the Delhi violence that took place in February of that year. MediaOne NEWS had conducted extensive coverage of the horrific communal riots through its team of reporters and journalists, and its refusal to toe the government line had incurred this suspension from the central government by framing charges in the order like criticism to the Delhi Police and RSS. The suspension was lifted after 12 hrs after the lifting of suspension of the other channel.

We hope that in the current instance as well subsequent judicial proceedings will protect the channel’s Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and restore the transmission license of MediaOne NEWS. Freedom of the press is essential to the health of any democracy, and the central government must not be allowed to abuse its powers to curb critical voices and television news channels that dare to question the official narrative.