The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry under Smriti Irani has decided to tighten the parameters of security clearances in allotting TV and Radio channels. In a strong letter to Home Secretary, the I&B Secretary said that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) should take stand on the security clearance in the cases of owners of the TV and Radio channels, considering their involvement in economic offences or crimes including under Prevention of Corruption Act.
…the I&B has now changed its stand arguing that the MHA should be the sole authority and it should not be limited to giving mere inputs on the economic or corruption case about the promoters applying for licenses.
Till early 2015, MHA was in complete control of the issue of security clearances to promoters of the TV and Radio channels. The MHA wings were clipped after the intervention of the then I&B Minister Arun Jaitley who favored allowing SUN TV Group in attending radio licences auction, ignoring the fact that the politically powerful Maran family was charged in many cases. Though MHA initially objected, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was forced to dilute his objections. After this incident, an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) was formed and MHA’s powers were limited to national security and integrity angles. The MHA will only give inputs or observations regarding the economic offences or other crimes involvement of promoters and the IMC will take a final call on this regard.
The next I&B Minister Venkaiah Naidu also dilly dallied on this case. Now I&B Ministry under Smriti Irani has decided to stop this dilution in policy.
In a letter dated August 23, I&B Secretary NK Sinha had written to the then Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi that the MHA should take a call on this issue and that economic offenders running TV or Radio channels could even lead to a misuse right of freedom of speech and expression and be detrimental to the society.
However, the I&B has now changed its stand arguing that the MHA should be the sole authority and it should not be limited to giving mere inputs on the economic or corruption case about the promoters applying for licenses. “As may be seen from the above, often the information/ observations is quite sensitive and due diligence would need to be done before arriving at any conclusion failing which the whole purpose of obtaining the security clearance would be meaningless. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) is not equipped to dig deep into the information provided by the MHA as if requires expert analysis.
“Moreover, the Ministry also does not have information on day to day development of the cases mentioned by MHA. Thus, it would become very difficult for MIB to take any unilateral decision on such cases. Sometimes the information is about cases that have been closed, or those that are under examination / prosecution by Courts or Regulatory Authorities,” said I&B reiterating that MHA should take full responsibly on the antecedents of the promoters of TV and Radio channels.
The letter shows that the I&B has asked MHA to take a stand on 43 cases of applications. In these 43 cases, MHA gave adverse inputs about the involvement of the promoters in economic offences, without any opinion. The two page letter is published below this article.
The I&B Ministry also rejected the legal opinion given by former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi in favour of Sun TV. The former AG had opined that involvement in economic offences would not hamper the Fundamental Right to carry business activities.
“However, I would like to mention that if some loaded content or false, deliberate, malicious content gets aired, a common man not having complete knowledge of that filed is more likely to accept it at its face value. Thus, if economic offenders run the channels and misuse the right of freedom of speech and expression, it may be detrimental to the society,” said the I&B Secretary rejecting the view of the former AG and asking the MHA to take full responsibility in giving security clearances.
Now it is the turn of Home Minister Rajnath Singh to take a call to take a strong stand on economic and other offenders trying to become the owners of news organisations. Will he?
The letter from I&B Secretary to Home Secretary is published below:
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