Duty of press to speak truth to power: SC

Supreme Court of India [Representational Image]
Supreme Court of India [Representational Image] File: ANI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Wednesday quashed Centre's refusal to grant security clearance to Malayalam news channel MediaOne, while emphasising that the press had a duty to speak truth to power and inform citizens about facts and the government cannot make national security claims out of thin air.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said critical views of a media organisation can't be termed anti-establishment and also pulled the central government for raising national security claims in "thin air".

The top court said: "An independent press is vital for the robust functioning of a democratic republic.

Its role in a democratic society is crucial for it shines light on the functioning of the state. The press has a duty to speak truth to power and present citizens with hard facts enabling them to make choices that propel democracy in the right direction..."

The bench added that a homogenized view on issues that range from socio-economic to political ideologies would pose grave danger to democracy. The critical views of the channel MediaOne on policies of the government cannot be termed anti-establishment, the use of such terminology in itself represents an expectation that the press must support the establishment, it added.

The bench said the action of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting by denying security clearance to a media channel on the basis of the view which the channel is constitutionally entitled to hold produces a chilling effect on free speech and in particular on press freedom.

The top court said it is important to mention the cavalier manner in which the Union of India has raised the issue of national security. It emphasised national security claims cannot be made out of thin air, and there must be material facts backing it. The detailed judgment in the matter will be uploaded later in the day.

The top court also criticized the sealed cover procedure and said the government has to first convince the court of national security and then justify how such concern overrides the principle of natural justice.

The top court judgment came on 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 last year, the Supreme Court stayed the Centre's ban on the Malayalam TV news channel. The central government had cited national security grounds to justify the ban. MediaOne had moved the top court after the Kerala High Court upheld the ban imposed on it by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

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