The Civil Court has ruled yesterday that the Maldives Broadcasting Commission’s (MBC) order for cable TV service provider Medianet to cease airing FIFA World Cup matches on any channels except state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Villa TV (VTV) was unlawful.
Medianet had sued the commission after MBC ordered the company to halt rebroadcasting matches on channels Sony Six, Sony Six HD and Sony Pix pending an inquiry, insisting that only TVM and VTV were authorised to broadcast matches.
In its verdict, the Civil Court reportedly ruled that the commission had not followed due process and was not authorised to issue such an order under broadcasting laws and regulations.
The court’s decision came ahead of the World Cup final match last night. MBC members have since told local media that the commission was seeking legal advice before deciding whether to appeal the verdict at the High Court.
Following Medianet’s refusal to comply with the commission’s first order, MBC had issued a second order instructing the company to comply “without any conditions”. Both orders were annulled by the Civil Court ruling yesterday.
Medianet had also refused to comply with instructions from the commission to broadcast matches shown on TVM and VTV in high definition.
Medianet is currently the only cable television service provider in the Maldives.
At a press conference following the verdict yesterday, Medianet Director Ahmed Nashid – opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Komandoo – contended that the commission could no longer be considered an independent institution.
A recently formed lobbying group comprised of private broadcasters was exerting undue influence over the MBC, he alleged, adding that the group had “hijacked” the commission.
The commission ordered Medianet to cease airing World Cup matches on channels except TVM and VTV a day after a meeting between the lobby group and MBC members, he noted.
Nashid further accused the MBC of participating in the lobby group’s alleged efforts to defame Medianet.
Claiming financial losses caused by the dispute, Nashid also said the company was considering suing MBC members for damages.
The lobby group meanwhile released a press statement yesterday accusing the MBC’s legal counsel of not adequately defending the commission’s stance.
The commission’s lawyer had conceded in court that the matter was under investigation and that due process was not followed, the lobby group said.
Moreover, the lawyer had not attempted to prove that Medianet deliberately misled the commission, the statement added.
Medianet had not sought authorisation in accordance with FIFA rules for rebroadcasting matches, the lobby group insisted.
MBC had maintained that Medianet’s agreement with Indian broadcaster Sony MSM was not made in accordance with Maldivian broadcasting law and that the company’s decision to charge an MVR100 fee for viewing matches on channels 100 and 100 plus was also illegal.
The FIFA World Cup was a “listed event” and Medianet had not sought authorisation to broadcast matches, MBC had said.
Moreover, the commission noted that only TVM and VTV had obtained rights to broadcast the event.
However, Nashid explained yesterday that the company had signed an agreement with Sony Six to broadcast the channel’s content for two years.
He stressed that the agreement was not limited to airing World Cup matches.