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  • Writer's pictureRitik Agrawal

Case Analysis: Madhyamam broadcasting Limited vs Union of India 2022

Manisha Shamrao Bhadade,

Dr Ambedkar college Department of Law Deekshabhomi Nagpur Maharashtra

CITATION

Civil Appeal no 8129 of 2022

APPELLANT 

Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited

RESPONDENT

Union of India & Ors.

BENCH/ JUDGE

Justice Hima Kohli and Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud

DATE OF JUGDEMENT

5th April 2023

STATUES/

CONSTITUTION

INVOLVED

Constitution of India,  Republications Act of 1995 , Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act of 1995.

IMPORTANT SECTIONS / ARTICLES

Articles    14,19,21    And    136    Of     Indian

Constitution, Section 4(6) of the Republications Act of 1995 and the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act of 1995.

Introduction

In recent years, the media industry in India has been subjected to increased scrutiny and censorship.

The case of “Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs Union of India & Ors” is an example of such censorship, where the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting refused to renew the broadcast license of the Malayalam channel MediaOne. The refusal was based on alleged links between the channel’s promoters Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. The case has been closely watched by media professionals and legal experts as it raises significant concerns about freedom of speech and expression.

Facts of the case 

The Appellant Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited (MBL) received "MediaOne" security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2011 for a period of ten years. However, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ordered the security clearance to be revoked and sent MBL a notice to demonstrate cause within six years. In addition, the respondent declined to renew the licence for reasons related to national security, though they were not made public. The appellants filed a lawsuit under Article 136 of the Constitution to oppose the MIB's order "revoking" Media One's right to uplink and downlink rulings from the Division Bench of the High Court. The High Court of Kerala dismissed the petitions brought by MBL and other respondents based on the information the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had supplied to the court in a sealed cover, noting that licence revocation may be required when constitutional considerations are in play. [i]The appellants then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of India.According to the appellant's attorney, MIB's decision to revoke the authorization given to uplink and downlink the channel Media One was unconstitutional. The requirement for a security clearance only applies to the granting of authorization to operate a channel, not to the renewal of an existing permission. It is unavoidable, even if it goes beyond the justified restrictions on press freedom outlined in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. To establish whether a security clearance will be granted or denied, the limits mentioned in Article H(2) must be read in connection with Section 4(6) of the Republications Act of 1995 and the Cable Television Networks (Regulations) Act of 1995. Between 2011 and 2022, the security clearance was not withdrawn, but the renewal should have been approved if the show cause notice had not made any allegations of contract violations. The Union of India transgressed the rules of an open court and party fairness by delivering information in a "sealed cover." The respondent did not provide any additional information beyond the assertion that the material was classified and that the rejection was issued in the interest of national security.In support of each respondent, Mr. K. M. Nataraj, Additional Solicitor General, contended that MIB had every right to revoke the authorization granted to Media One because a security clearance is a need for licence renewal. [ii]The Centre argued that the natural justice principle should not be applied in cases of natural security because it has already been established by judgements in the cases Ex-Army Men's Protection Services Private Limited v. Union of India and Others (2014) and Digi Cable and Network (India) Private Limited v. Union of India and Others (2019).

Issue before the court 

1.              Whether obtaining a security clearance is one of the requirements listed in the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines for renewing permission.

2.              Whether the Division Bench of the High Court's decisions and the rejection of a licence renewal violated the appellants' constitutionally protected procedural rights.  3. To what extent the appellant's right to free speech and expression was arbitrarily restricted by the order refusing renewal of the licence. Arguments 

The two procedural arguments of natural justice and proportionality led the Supreme Court to uphold Media One's appeal. In the case of "Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India," the concepts of natural justice were enshrined in Indian law. It is the claimant's responsibility to establish that the procedure used went beyond the essential protections of procedural rights in a dispute involving natural justice. In the case of "Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs. Union of India & Ors," Media One established that MBL's right to a fair hearing was violated by the MIB's unexplained order dated January 31, 2022, as well as by the appellants' failure to receive pertinent information and the court's exclusive revelation of that information. In this case, it is the responsibility of the Centre to demonstrate that the procedure followed was reasonable and in accordance with Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The twojudge panel that rendered the judgement was composed of Justices CJI D.Y. ChandraChud and Justice Hima Kohli. A transparent and accountable system would be undermined if all investigative agency reports were given blanket immunity from disclosure. These reports also have a greater influence on choices impacting people's lives, freedoms, and occupations. Therefore, there are several ways to prevent the publication of any investigation findings.[iii] The courts should proceed with less rigour even where the withholding of material is justified by national security considerations. Courts should use the remedy of redacting private elements of the sealed cover document and providing a summary of the document's contents to fairly exclude materials after a successful public interest immunity claim. The Court went on to add that although it is agreed that confidentiality and national security are both reasonable goals, it is nevertheless possible to determine whether the State's refusal to reveal has anything to do with national security. It was argued that the courts would not adopt a "hands-off" attitude just because national security arguments were made, citing the Pegasus case (ML Sharma v. Union of India).

Analysis

The Kerala High Court's single bench first upheld the restriction on the media outlet known as Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited. The supporters of Media One contended that they were not given an opportunity to respond and that the Indian Constitution only permits restrictions on freedom of speech and expression for the reasons listed in Article 19(2). The two procedural arguments of natural justice and proportionality led the Supreme Court to uphold Media One's appeal.It is the claimant's responsibility to establish that the procedure used went beyond the essential protections of procedural rights in a dispute involving natural justice. The Supreme Court determined that the respondents' chosen means did not adhere to the other criteria for proportionality. The case has been crucial in highlighting the significance of natural justice and proportionality in maintaining fairness in court procedures, particularly in circumstances involving concerns about national security.

Judgement  

The Supreme Court upheld Media One’s appeal on two procedural grounds: natural justice and proportionality. The principles of natural justice were constitutionalized in the case of “Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India.” [iv]In a case involving natural justice, the burden is on the claimant to prove that the procedure that was followed oversteps the core of procedural guarantees.In this case of “Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs Union of India & Ors,” Media One proved that MBL’s right to a fair hearing was infringed by the unreasoned order of the MIB dated 31 January 2022 and the non-disclosure of relevant material to the appellants, and its disclosure solely to the court. The burden on the Centre in such a situation is to prove that the procedure that was followed was reasonable and in compliance with the requirements of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. While principles of natural justice are fundamental to ensuring fairness in legal proceedings, they can be excluded in cases where national security concerns outweigh the duty of fairness. The test to assess the validity of the claim of involvement of national security considerations is whether there is material to conclude that the non-disclosure of information is in the interest of national security, and whether a reasonable prudent person would draw the same inference from the material on record. In this case of “Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs Union of India & Ors,” the Supreme Court found that the means adopted by the respondents did not satisfy the other prongs of the proportionality standard. The case has been significant in emphasizing the importance of natural justice and proportionality in ensuring fairness in legal proceedings, particularly in cases involving national security concerns.

Conclusion 

The channel did not violate the Programme and Advertising Code prescribed under the Cable Television Networking (Regulation) Act 1995. There was no evidence or material backing of nexus between Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited and Jamaate-Islami-Hind (JEIH). JEIH is not a banned organization.  The SC observed that the channel was not given a chance to defend which violates Article 19(2). The state is using national security as a tool to deny remedies to the citizens thus violating the rule of law.  The national security considerations assessment not properly put the test of proportionality. The Court observed that there is an inherent value in securing compliance with the principles of natural justice.Though confidentiality and national security are legitimate aims for limiting procedural guarantee, a blanket immunity from disclosure of all investigative reports cannot be granted. Sealed cover proceedings infringes the principle of natural justice and open justice.In this case of Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited vs Union of India & Ors, Media One proved that

MBL's right to a fair hearing was infringed by the unreasoned order of the MIB dated 31 January 2022 and the non-disclosure of relevant material to the appellants, and its disclosure solely to the court.

REFERENCES

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