RED FM gained some relief after the High Court asked the central government to allow it to participate in the mock auctions currently being carried out. We take a look at how the entire issue has progressed so far.
The ongoing stalemate first came out in May when the Home Ministry decided to withhold security clearances to Sun TV Network, which runs 33 TV channels and 45 FM radio stations under the brand name of Red FM and Suryan FM.
Sun TV-Home Ministry issue delays Phase III auction
Sun TV Network’s troubles lie in ongoing cases against the Maran brothers—Dayanidhi and Kalanithi Maran; the latter being the promoter of the Sun Group, which owns Sun TV Network. The brothers are under investigation by the CBI in two cases, one of which is the Aircel-Maxis case. Sun TV Network is also being probed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for alleged money laundering in the Aircel-Maxis case, which has also seen the attachment of assets worth Rs 742 crore.
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Though the radio fraternity were almost unanimous in their support for the estranged operator, even writing a letter to the PM asking him to intervene, the matter continued to be stuck in limbo for more than a month. Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Arun Jaitley, even wrote to his counterpart in the Home Ministry, Rajnath Singh, seeking clarification on what constituted ‘economic security’ and whether it was possible to review the decision.
Meanwhile, Sun TV’s stocks continued to fall amidst speculation that all its media properties would have to go offline.
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In late June, the MIB sought out the legal opinion of the Attorney General after its attempts to convince the home ministry did not work. Rohatgi after reviewing the case gave his opinion saying that denying security clearance to 33 channels of Sun TV Network on the basis that the promoters are being investigated for corruption cases is not legal. He said that corruption cases cannot be the ground to deny security clearance. He further added that security clearance can be granted as agencies are cases related to corruption and not national security.
However, despite this, the Home Ministry refused to budge from its stance and it started to seem more and more likely that an amicable decision was unlikely.
Despite Attorney General's views, MHA stands by Sun TV Network verdict
On June 29, the Home Ministry finally issued a statement saying as “Several rules had been violated by the owners” and Sun TV Network would not be issued a security clearance.
Home Ministry takes final decision, denies security clearance to Sun TV Network
However, the MIB did not communicate any official statement to RED FM for the next two weeks. The final nail in the coffin came on July 15, when MIB released its list of pre-qualified bidders, namely the operators allowed to participate in the auctions. RED FM’s name was missing from the list, which was taken as confirmation that the MIB did not intend to pursue the matter further with the Home Ministry.
RED FM missing as MIB releases list of qualified bidders for Phase III
On July 20, Red FM confirmed that they would be approaching the High Court seeking resolution of the matter and postponement of the auctions till this was done. Interestingly, Red FM filed the case independently and not as a part of the Sun TV Network. The intention was clearly to separate the radio and TV brand so that any legal proceedings did not flounder any more.
Red FM to approach Delhi High Court today
The very next day, July 21, the Delhi HC termed the security clearance process “vague” and asked the Centre to let them know by the next day if it was possible to postpone the auctions.
On July 22, the MIB told the court that it would not be possible to delay the auctions any more as this would have a “cascading effect”. Following this, the court allowed Red FM to participate in the mock auctions, which started yesterday and will continue till Thursday, July 23. Red FM has also filed a separate petition in the Chennai HC; whose decision is expected to come out today.
Delhi HC allows RED FM to participate in mock auctions
The Delhi HC is expected to continue hearing of the case on Friday. The MIB has already “tentatively” fixed the date of the auctions as July 27 and so any decision will have to be concluded by Friday to ensure that the Phase III auctions take place without any further hurdles. However, the fact that Red FM was allowed to participate in the mock auctions is being taken as a sign that perhaps Red has turned the corner.