New Delhi : In a major setback to the Chennai based Media Conglomerate Sun TV Network Ltd., the union home ministry has denied security clearance to its 33 television channels, a decision that could lead to cancellation of their broadcasting licence and the channels going off air.
The decision has been communicated by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) to the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) on Friday.
Earlier, the home ministry had denied security clearance for MSO license renewal for SCV and for 40-odd radio channels run by Sun Network, prompting I&B Minister Arun Jaitley to write to Home Minister Rajnath Singh in April seeking a review of the decision. Singh, however, declined to change his mind on Security clearance to Sun TV Network.
A top MIB official confirmed the development, saying a letter on this subject was received on Friday. The ministry now plans to send a recommendation to minister Arun Jaitley suggesting cancellation of the broadcasting licences of the channels after which they will have to go off air, unless the courts intervene.
The Sun TV network is one of India’s largest media conglomerates whose TV channels reach more than 95 million households in India. It had applied for a ten-year renewal of security clearances of all its 33 channels last year. Shutting down a network of this size would be an unprecedented event.
“We have no idea whatsoever as to what has transpired between the two ministries; so we cannot comment on it Also, it is late evening on a Friday, and till the time of this email we have had no written communication from any ministry that our security clearance for TV broadcasting has been revoked,” SL Narayanan, CFO & spokesman, Sun Group told ET in an e-mail response.
Government officials said that they expect Sun TV will challenge the decision in court, from where it secured relief last year after home ministry had denied security clearance to the group’s cable TV business.
“There are three pending criminal investigations against Sun TV and its owner Kalanithi Maran – CBI’s Aircel-Maxis case, an Enforcement Directorate case of money laundering as well as a pending CBI case of an illegal telephone exchange allegedly run from Sun TV’s office,” a senior home ministry official told on condition of anonymity, explaining the grounds for denial of security clearance to Sun Group’s FM and the TV channels. “There are hence issues of economic security/integrity,” the official added.
Narayanan, when asked about the cases, told ET: “We agree that there are pending investigations involving some Sun Group entities but we firmly believe that we will be fully acquitted in all these proceedings. In our opinion, the fundamental legal tenet of “presumed innocent till proven guilty” ought to be followed. A premature condemnation of the Sun Group till we are given an opportunity of a fair hearing will be a grave miscarriage of justice.”
For the Sun Group, trouble has been brewing since it applied for licence renewals to MIB for its MSO SCV and 50 radio stations which operate under the Suryan FM and Red FM brands. These needed fresh security clearances from MHA, which was denied. MHA had signaled its disinclination to entertain MIB’s requests to reconsider its decision regarding denial of Security clearance to Sun TV Network and this was subsequently communicated to MIB.
Narayanan said they had already moved the Madras High Court seeking interim relief in the Sun FM matter. “The court has granted us a stay till the matter is disposed of. We also understand from the submissions made in the court during these proceedings by the counsel appearing for the Union of India that the ministry of I&B has written to the ministry of home affairs for a reconsideration of its earlier decision and recommending the issuance of the requisite security clearance,” Narayanan said.
CBI has charged Kalanithi Maran, his brother and UPA-era telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran and Sun TV in what is known as the ‘Aircel-Maxis scam’ last year.
As an offshoot of that investigation, the enforcement directorate launched an investigation into a possible money laundering and in April attached properties worth Rs 742.58 crore belonging to the Maran brothers. This amount, in CBI’s view, equals the alleged illegal gratification paid in the Aircel-Maxis scam wherein a UK-based subsidiary of Malaysian company Maxis purchased shares of Sun Direct Ltd at a premium of Rs 629 crore. In return for this alleged gratification, Dayanidhi Maran is alleged to have misused his position as telecom minister to force S Sivasankaran, a businessman, to sell his telecom business to Maxis.
The Marans and Maxis deny these allegations. CBI is also investigating a case against Dayanidhi Maran and Sun TV for laying 323 lines – connecting Maran’s residence with the office of Sun TV – through a dedicated underground cable during his tenure as telecom minister.
SOURCE : ECONOMIC TIMES