State’s overreach: SC makes welcome intervention to quash telecast ban - The Tribune India

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State’s overreach

SC makes welcome intervention to quash telecast ban

State’s overreach


Quashing the Centre’s telecast ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne, the Supreme Court has pulled up the Home Ministry for citing a threat to national security without any factual basis. ‘Such claims cannot be made out of thin air. There must be material backing such an inference,’ the Bench has said, while asserting that the State can’t impose unreasonable restrictions that will have ‘a chilling effect on press freedom’. The Centre had justified the ban on the grounds that the channel’s shareholders were suspected of involvement with Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEI-H), an Islamist organisation with alleged extremist links. JEI-H itself had been proscribed by the Union Government in 1992, but the ban was revoked two years later on the apex court’s orders.

The court has rightly stated that since the JEI-H is not a banned entity now, it would be ‘rather precarious for the State to contend that links with the organisation would affect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, the security of the State... or public order.’ The judgment has laid bare the overzealousness of investigative agencies, which sometimes draw hasty conclusions about individuals or organisations on the basis of insufficient evidence. The onus is on these agencies to establish beyond doubt that MediaOne and JEI-H have linkages which tantamount to a subversive, anti-national nexus. Unless these allegations are proved through an in-depth probe, it’s overreach on the Centre’s part to muzzle the channel. Another issue that has been red-flagged is the practice of filing sealed-cover reports in courts. Calling it a violation of the principles of ‘natural justice’ and ‘open justice’, the Supreme Court has given a dressing-down to the Centre for failing to justify the need for confidentiality of case-related information.

The right to freedom of speech is not absolute; nor are the State’s powers. It all boils down to exercising rights and powers responsibly and in public interest. The entire procedure in every case must be marked by transparency and accountability, right from the probe to the submission of evidence. It is hoped that the judgment will embolden the media to speak truth to power and deter probe agencies from committing excesses.


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