Lawyers stand up against assault on freedom of press by Indian judiciary

New Delhi, February 15 (KMS): Lawyers and free speech activists have slammed the revocation of license of a Kerala-based news channel, ‘MediaOne’ for being critical of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological fountain-head, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in India.

Expressing disappointment with the court order upholding the ban on the channel owned by Kerala chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami India, lawyers and civil rights activists criticised the move calling it an assault on freedom of press.

On January 5, the Indian Ministry of Information & Broadcasting revoked the channel’s license, both uplink and downlink, citing unspecified ‘national security’ concerns raised by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs. The channel is off air since then.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi via video link, N Ram, the editor of The Hindu, said the ban under the garb of so-called national security is “totally unacceptable and unconstitutional”.

He said that even if the media outlets commit some error, there should be self-regulatory mechanism and bodies to address such issues instead of downright banning the channel.

The channel petitioned before the Kerala High Court against the ban, but after an interim relief for couple of days, the court upheld the government’s position after it filed a response in a sealed cover. The channel said it was not shown the contents of the response.

Calling the national security argument arbitrary, Ram questioned the courts’ free pass when it comes to the fundamental rights including the right to freedom of expression.

Many attribute the New Delhi’s decision to revoke the license to the fact that the channel is owned by Jamaat-e-Islami and its editorial policy has been critical of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological fountain-head, RSS.

Commenting on the decision of the Kerala HC in favour of continuing the ban, senior Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan, expressed concern over what he called as growing spectra of sealed jurisprudence and said it is “a gross violation of natural justice”.

“This needs to be completely uprooted,” Bhushan said, adding, “National security does not mean such orders can be excluded from judicial review. Fundamental rights are sacrosanct.”

The government has cancelled the license based on intel inputs which presume a breach of security if the channel was allowed to broadcast.

The channel had applied for renewal of the license in May 2021, five months prior to the expiry of the license granted in 2011 at the time of inception. On January 5, editor of ‘Media One’, Pramod Raman, told media men, the government said it would not renew the license. “They banned us without giving any prior notice,” lamented Raman. “We have not even been told what wrong we have committed.”

He said the channel would knock on the doors of the Supreme Court if it does not get any relief from the high court.

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