Was MediaOne news channel denied security clearance because it is owned by Muslims – Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organisation, to be precise? “Not sure,” replied C Dawood, the managing editor of the Malayalam news channel, which temporarily stopped its broadcast on 31 January as the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry issued an order that asked it to stop operations.
Dawood, who has been with MediaOne since the channel’s inception in 2011, was, however, sure that the I&B Ministry’s order was aimed to “blatantly intimidate” the management, as the channel has been “critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the Centre.”
The channel is back on air after the high court deferred the I&B Ministry’s order till Wednesday, 2 February. Pramod Raman is the editor of the channel.
The order was based on Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) denial of security clearance to the channel, which is part of the company, Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited. The MHA denied security clearance to the channel on “national security” grounds. Even in 2016, the MHA had denied security clearance citing “national security” as the reason.
Speaking to The Quint, Dawood explained, “We have been extensively covering issues that concern the most marginalised sections in the country. This includes the coverage of anti-CAA protests and the farmers’ protests.” On 1 February, the state leader of Kerala BJP accused the channel of being “anti-national.”
Covering Anti-CAA and Farmers’ Protests
When MediaOne came on air in 2013, two years after the channel was given license to operate, Dawood was there in its first office at Kozhikode, Kerala. “It is a cliché that the media gives voice to the voiceless. At MediaOne we are clear that no one is voiceless. But a large majority are unheard.”
The channel, in its news policy promises that it will broadcast the stories of even those whose voices are not heard.
Dawood said the channel authorities, however, were not told why the Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled its security clearance. In its reply, dated 19 January, to the I&B Ministry, Madhayamam Broadcasting Limited wrote, "The showcause notice (issued on 5 January from the I&B Ministry) itself is vague in as much as it does not disclose the reason for denial of security clearance...As the showcause notice itself is moot on the exact reasons for the revocation of security clearance, we are unable to raise our exact contentions in that regard and to effectively defend the imputations."
The channel, however, has been extensively covering the anti-CAA protests for the past two years.
On 12 December 2019 when the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which made religion a criterion for Indian citizenship, got presidential assent, MediaOne covered students’ protests in Jamia Millia Islamia. On 15 December 2019, the channel broadcasted visuals of police action on students of the university. “I still remember the first visuals from Jamia coming in. Two young women (Ladeeda Farzana and Ayesha Renna) were seen leading the protest. We were the first to air the visuals of the protests,” Dawood said.
In February 2020, as communal riots broke out in Delhi, MediaOne’s national bureau in the city carried stories of the bloodshed that claimed at least 53 lives. Shortly after, the I&B Ministry banned its broadcast for 48 hours.
“Our editorial policy has been critical of the policies of the Union government including CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC). We have also been critical of the communal politics of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the BJP.”C Dawood, Managing Editor, MediaOne
The channel, however, has been “objective” in its coverage, he said.
“We have been objective and factual in our criticism of governmental policies. It is the media’s duty to be critical.” During farmers protests, that raged along Delhi’s borders in 2020 and 2021, MediaOne extensively covered versions and visuals from the ground, Dawood said.
The I&B’s order to halt the operations of the channel, however, posed an affront to the media ecosystem in Kerala, the managing editor added.
‘Intimidating Kerala’s Media Channels’
Dawood, who has been a journalist for decades, said that the effort is to silence media in Kerala. “The media in Kerala is pro-democracy and anti-Sangh Parivar. More than us, I think, the ministry wanted to intimidate this media ecosystem of almost all news channels in Kerala.”
The BJP is not a welcome social presence in the state and MediaOne has had a role to play in creating this critical political environment for the party, he said.
“Our presence in broadcasting, and the presence of news channels with similar editorial perspectives, has affected the BJP’s prospects in the state. Because of this, the BJP has political enmity towards MediaOne and other news channels in Kerala.”
The rivalry could have triggered the I&B Ministry’s order, he rued. MediaOne has been at the receiving end of social media campaigns promoted by those who support the BJP, Dawood alleged.
“We were being constantly targeted online.” The channel, however, will not tone down its coverage, despite the recent debacle, he added.
MediaOne has a clear-cut news policy. “We are objective but not impartial. Our news policy is clear that we will stand with those who are unheard. We stand by this policy,” Dawood said. The channel is “paying the cost of this stand.” The Kerala High Court is expected to hear Madhyamam Broadcasting Limited's writ challenging the I&B Ministry's order, on 2 February.