Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the news channel, contended before a bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli that government does not have omnibus discretion to impose any new condition and emphasised on the aspect of freedom of press.
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 interest of 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.
He vehemently argued that the government cannot put any new conditions, and the channel is not eligible for registration and renewal of license 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 programme code on five occasions.
The bench noted that renewal is like 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.
The top court 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.
On March 15 this year, the Supreme Court stayed the Centre’s ban on the Malayalam TV news channel. The Central government hadAcited national security grounds to justify the ban.
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.
The division bench of the high court comprising Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chali noted 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.