PIL challenging content regulation powers of Central Government dismissed by Kerala HC

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The High Court of Kerala dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition which challenged the constitutional validity of powers of Centre under the of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1994 to impose ban on telecast of TV channels. 

A bench comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly orally remarked that it was necessary to have regulatory powers over media in the interest of law and order and national security. 

Facts: PIL was filed by lawyer-activist Harish Vasudevan in the wake of recent ban imposed by Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Malayalam channels Asia net News and Media One TV for their coverage of Delhi riots. The petition challenged Section 20(2) of Cable TV Network Regulation Act 1994 and Rule 6(1)(a) and 6(1)(i) the Cable Television Networks Rules – which empower Centre to regulate content of TV channels – as arbitrary and vague.

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It was highlighted that the ban order against Media One mentioned “being critical against Delhi police and RSS” as one of the reasons. 

The fact that these orders were revoked within a few hours of their issuance revealed that the officials themselves knew that the orders are not legally sustainable, added the petitioner.

 Rule 6 of the Cable TV Network Rules 1994 lays down the Programme Code. As per Rule 6(1)(a), a channel cannot telecast a programme which “offends against good taste or decency”.

Rule 6(1)(i) is a prohibition against telecast of programmes which “Criticizes, maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country”.

“Some provisions of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Cable Television Networks Rules,1994 and the Policy Guidelines for Uplinking of Television Channels are arbitrary, unfair and unconstitutional. It gives power to the Central Government to use such power arbitrarily, irrationally and unconstitutionally. The power given to the executive through such provisions to impose restriction/prohibition is not in rational nexus with the objects sought to be achieved by it. Excessive power delegation and arbitrariness through some laws, Rules and guidelines makes it violative of Article 14,19 and 21 guaranteed by the Constitution of India to the petitioner”, the petition stated. 

“Going by the dictum laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the matter of Shreya Singhal Vs Union of India and Ors it is clear that Sub Section (2) of Section 20 of the Cable Television Networks(Regulation)Act,1995 as well as Paragraph 8.1 of the Policy Guidelines for Uplinking of Television Channels from India will not withstand the test of constitutionality and would clearly curtail the freedom of speech enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India”, stated the petition filed through Advocates P A Mohammed Shah and Rajan Vishnuraj. 

The plea also sought declarations that reporting of truthful facts or factual incidents will not amount to offence, and that being critical towards Delhi police and RSS will not constitute any offence under law.