The Centre on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that the denial of security clearance to Malayalam news channel Media One is based on intelligence inputs, which are “sensitive” and “secret in nature”.
It said that as a matter of policy and in the interest of security of the state and its establishments, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) does not disclose the reasons for denial. The affidavit was filed by the Ministry of Information of Broadcasting (MOIB) in response to the appeal by the news channel against the Kerala High Court order dismissing its plea challenging the denial of security clearance and telecast ban ordered by the Centre.
It, however, said all the relevant files were produced by the MHA before the High Court and also before the top court on March 15 and in the event this court directed to produce the said files again, the MHA would produce the same before this court in a sealed cover.
“It is further submitted that the MHA, under Section 124 of the Indian Evidence Act, seeks privilege over its secret files and prays to this court that the contents of the files may not be disclosed to the petitioners, as such a disclosure may have far reaching and unimaginable consequences in so far as national security is concerned,” it said.
‘Not a matter of right’
The Centre said the renewal of permission for a TV channel was not a matter of right for a company and such permission was granted only upon fulfilment of certain eligibility conditions as stipulated, inter alia, under the uplinking and downlinking guidelines and other relevant statutory framework.
It said the submission of the company (Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd) that there was no requirement of security clearance at the time of renewal was incorrect and only an afterthought. “It is noteworthy that the contention on behalf of the petitioner-company that the security clearance of the MHA is required only at the time of initial permission and in case of renewal no such permission is required is fallacious and contrary to the provisions of the uplinking and downlinking guidelines,” the government said.
Referring to clauses of the uplinking and downlinking guidelines, it said these specifically provide that all the conditions or requirements needed at the time of the grant of initial permission are required to be complied with at the time of renewal also.
“Further, if the interpretation as is sought to be given by the petitioner to the uplinking and downlinking guidelines is accepted, it would lead to a situation wherein the clearance granted by the MHA for once would operate perpetually, which would defeat the very purpose and object of grant of such security clearances,” the affidavit said.
The Centre further said that the permission was initially granted for 10 years only and the security clearance of the MHA in respect of the same was also valid for the same period only. “Renewal of permission for a further period of 10 years requires verification and clearances of the MHA again from the point of view of national security,” it said, and gave details of sequence of events of cancellations of permission to the Media One channel and denial of permission to the company for appointment of two new directors Musliyarakath Mehaboob and Rahmathunnissa Abdul Razack. It said the company could not insist upon the strict compliance of principles of natural justice in a matter where issues of national security were involved and the government was not bound to disclose the reasons for denial of security clearance to the company.
On March 15, the top court had stayed till further orders the January 31 directive of the Centre revoking the licence of Malayalam news channel Media One and banning its telecast on grounds of national security. 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 High Court 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.