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SC: Critical views on government policies not anti-establishment

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Indian Constitution—Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure

 

Source: TH

Context: The SC set aside the Centre’s order refusing to grant the renewal of the broadcast licence to a Malayalam news channel (Media One).

 

Background:

  • 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 the channel’s promoters contended in the SC?

  • 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.

Reasonable restrictions

 These are outlined in Article 19(2) of the Constitution allowing for restrictions (on freedom of speech and expression) in the interests of the

●       Security and sovereignty of India,

●       Friendly relations with Foreign States,

●       Public order,

●       Decency or morality in the relation to contempt of court,

●       Defamation or incitement to an offence.

 

What did the SC say?

  • 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.
  • Opinions that are critical of government policies are not anti-establishment.
  • 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 → not compatible with the rule of law.
  • JEIH is not a banned organisation and it is unclear how links with the organisation would affect the sovereignty and integrity, security of the state, etc.

 

Insta Links:

Press Freedom Index