Comment: Journalism in the Maldives

I sit to write this after hearing the news that another journalist has been attacked in the Maldives. Aswad Ibrahim, a journalist for Raajje TV was left critically ill after being repeatedly beaten about the head with a metal bar. We all pray he will recover, just as fellow journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed recovered after having his throat slashed last year.

This recent attack has prompted me to share some thoughts from my own personal experiences of working as a journalist in the Maldives for much of 2012. The name of the newspaper I worked for was Minivan News – the word ‘Minivan’ meaning independent in the local language.

My time in the Maldives was a fantastic one, but also one of frustration and bemusement at the persistent refusal by many to accept the existence of political impartiality within Maldivian society. Many will already be reaching for their keyboards as they read this, to write disparaging comments about myself, about Minivan News, or about the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – who founded the newspaper in 2005. This was a persistent tactic used by commenters on most of the articles I wrote for Minivan and many of the pieces I produced for other publications at the time.

The most commonly repeated rumours were that we worked very closely with the MDP leadership, in particular with Nasheed himself, and that we were all given a strict editorial line to follow. In actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Personally, I met with Nasheed only once during my time in the Maldives. Three days before I left, I requested a personal meeting with him as he was somebody I had come to admire greatly (and also, because I had never met a President before).

As for the strict diktat, filtering down to the writers from the upper echelons of the MDP, this would take a great deal more organisation than a handful of overheated foreigners hunched over their laptops around a kitchen table can really manage.

A brief account of my background may assuage any accusations that I was, as one commenter put it, an MDP “stooge”. I believe my history to be, if not the same as, at least indicative of, the majority of westerners who come to work for the paper – arriving open-minded, without prior political predisposition.

I ended up in the Maldives shortly after moving to London in search of career opportunities. Prior to this, I had worked as a postman in the north-west of England. The first internship opportunity I secured was with the Maldives’ High Commission.

Despite being an International Relations graduate, I have to admit that prior to my feverish preparation for the job interview that week, I had barely heard of the Maldives, nor could I have pointed it out on a map. All of this begs the question of naysayers who consistently queried my credibility: Why would a postman from Cheshire have strong political affiliations in country he’d never heard of, 5000 miles away?

I will admit that the High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner during my time at the High Commission were strongly pro-MDP. Indeed, both resigned shortly after President Nasheed left office. It is this assumption, however, that contact with persons of a certain political persuasion forever diminishes one’s ability to think clearly, that I found particularly insulting.

This attitude was exemplified by the response of business tycoon and politician Gasim Ibrahim when I met him during last year’s parliamentary by-election in Kaashidhoo. Feeling I had nothing to hide, I mentioned to him that I had worked at the High Commission with these people. It was at this point that he smiled knowingly and turned to the rest of his supporters saying “there, you see it”.

Perhaps this was the misperception that those raining blows down on Aswad laboured under. That they were attacking something bigger than him, that he is simply a mouthpiece for a far larger movement. As I experienced, it seems never to occur to people that the writer could be his own person; could have his own integrity; that his words could stem from his own thoughts.

One particularly interesting example of this attitude was the case of Dr Hassan Saeed, whom I met whilst working at the High Commission in London. Dr Saeed, a former Presidential candidate and current Special Advisor to the President, came to London shortly after the change in government in February 2012 to speak with the media. As part of my duties there, I helped to arrange an interview for him with the BBC. During that day we chatted about politics, Maldivian and British, and I found him to be a very pleasant man. However, during my time in the Maldives, I was unable to get him to even sit with me for a cup of coffee.

Understandably, Dr Saeed was surprised to see me in the Maldives when we met at President Waheed’s first public reception at Muleeage. After greeting me, Dr Saeed asked if I was in Male’ in relation to my work with the High Commission. I replied that I was now working with Minivan News, at which point his smile slipped a little.

Thinking I was talking to a friend, I jokingly asked if this would be a problem. He simply replied “no, every paper has its philosophy.” After this we agreed to meet for coffee. Unfortunately, after being politely stalled a few times, Dr Saeed would not return my messages and I realised with disappointment that an excellent opportunity to build a relationship between Minivan and this powerful politician would be missed as, in his mind, I had ceased to be Daniel Bosley and had instead become Nasheed’s mouthpiece.

After this, Dr Saeed failed to respond to almost all of the paper’s calls regarding stories, just as most government ministers do. Read any story published on the site and you will find it littered with phrases such as “the state minister was unavailable for comment”, “Minivan News was awaiting the government’s comment at the time of press”. The article is then almost inevitably followed by many comments stating how biased and “one-sided” it is.

One of the most bizarre experiences I had personally was a President’s Office spokesman calling me a “little shit” over the phone, after I had spent five minutes explaining to him why I needed a quote for a story and could not just write my own opinion. This failure to understand the basic tenets of journalism seems to be the main reason why journalists in the Maldives, like Aswad, are more often becoming the victims of violence.

Dr Hassan Saeed was also rumoured (note that I include the word ‘rumoured’ as I cannot personally substantiate this) to be behind a comical attempt last year to establish a rival English-language news outlet – Maldivian Daily.

This endeavour involved flying in two young journalists from the UK, assigning them minders, and refusing them any of the freedoms a normal journalist would expect – including a warning to steer clear of any Minivan employees (who, me?). This farcical scheme ended soon after the pair began asking too many questions. The employees of Minivan News were given all the details at the airport bar shortly before the first journalist flew home, to be followed by the second weeks later.

This incident would be funny were it not indicative of the repeated attempts to manipulate and coerce the Maldivian media. I fully understand that Raajje TV takes an unashamedly pro-MDP line, but this in itself does not make its content necessarily fallacious. Again, the basic (and often wilful) misunderstanding of the difference between an editorial line and propaganda has led to the refusal of the Maldivian Police to offer Raajje’s journalists even the most basic protection.

In the UK, the Guardian newspaper takes an openly liberal line but its journalists are not labelled communists and beaten in the streets; similarly, Daily Mail writers are not condemned as Nazis. My advice to anyone who feels a news outlet is printing inaccurate information would be to send them to court, not to hospital.

If you are reading this on Minivan News itself (I did not have any particular publication in mind when this stream of consciousness began), you will likely note a thread of derogatory comments below. It is not the policy of the paper to reply to comments made on the site, so I would like to redirect anyone particularly incensed by my remarks to my twitter feed (@dbosley80).

I write this not as an MDP stooge, not to win favour with any individual, not even as a practising journalist. I write as someone disturbed to see a man beaten to within an inch of his life for putting pen to paper; to see a peaceful nation brutalising itself.

The URL at the top of the page should not detract the veracity of my claims, nor should the name of a paper diminish the credibility of a writer’s argument. Similarly, the organisation which Aswad Ibrahim works for does not immediately denigrate his integrity as a journalist.

Perhaps more importantly, it does not remove his rights as a human being – something which many in the Maldives appear to have forgotten.

Daniel Bosley worked as a journalist for Minivan News in 2012.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


16 thoughts on “Comment: Journalism in the Maldives”

  1. Well, I'm sure a stream of abuse will follow soon enough regarding Daniel's article. This latest brutal attack on an innocent man reflects the sad state of the country.

    This used to be a peaceful place. Just two decades ago, murder was unheard of, anywhere in the country. There wasn't a single policeman in any of the inhabited islands apart from Male. There was no need for them, to be honest as the place was as peaceful as you could get on earth (within reason).

    Of course, that has all disappeared completely. Maldivians have been thrown into the age of "democracy" without having being taught what democracy is. When the last dictator vacated his throne in 2008, everyone was "free". But no one really knew how to use that freedom. Now, we have freedom to steal, rape and kill as far as some are concerned.

    Part of the problem that Daniel describes is that Maldivians have no concept of "agreeing to disagree" which is a fundamental principle of democracy. Quite a lot of the comical comments that appear in response to Minivan articles are clear examples of this.

    A Guardian writer in the UK is not seen as a "communist", but an MDP supporter has got the label of a "terrorist", and the party itself was labelled a "terrorist organisation" by none other than the Maldivian President's appointed Human Rights Ambassador! When that happens, you know there is something seriously wrong with a society.

  2. A very concise and articulate comment piece. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of journalists and journalism in the Maldives.
    Those attacks are horrifying and inexcusable, wishing a speedy recovery to Aswad.

  3. I do agree, at the same time I also want to note this same misunderstanding on the how media works is shared amount politicians of highest level on all sides. I am not saying and neither I believe is you saying that it is politicians who do these things but refusal to accept media had lead great hatred amount the follows that burn down into something very less than human. It is awfully sad.

  4. And again where is this minivan news registered?
    Ministers and government officals are not obliged to answer questions from an unregistered and unaccredited personel blog run by some MDP activists and their foreign affiliates.
    You people are good at 2 things: running MDP propagenda and spewing anti-muslim hatred.

  5. Daniel, thank you for this article. I'm sorry that this is the Maldives you experienced.

    Ainth, thank you for illustrating the whole point of of this article so eloquently. Tsk tsk!

  6. So this "postman from UK" decided to answer my quary on twitter.
    He claims that it is registered. But the regulatory authority, Maldives Media Council says otherwise.
    He also says that government ministers answer questions on a democracy. Is that so? Then why is that in Nasheed's regime he threatened the then opposition dhitv, vtv and dhifm. Why did he send police to the office of dhifm channel in the middle of the night and ordered its broadcast be stopped. Why did his ministeres avoid answering questions from these media.
    If you are are truly "open minded" you see the wrong from all sides. Sadly, it is not the case with people working here.
    And about minivan being read. This is not the first choice for news by anyone, except a few MDP people. Most people, including me, read it to see the reaction from MDP about a current issue. And it never fails in that manner, hence upholding the title, MDP mouth piece.

  7. @Ainth on Sat, 23rd Feb 2013 6:54 PM

    "You people are good at 2 things: running MDP propagenda and spewing anti-muslim hatred."

    I'm not affiliated with this paper in any way, but I believe your query regarding its registered status has been answered before. You can check with the Information Department if you are so concerned.

    Just to note that "anti-muslim hatred" is a double negative, which equates to Muslim love! So, yes, thanks to Minivan for spewing "Muslim love", whatever that is.

    If you do not like MDP propaganda, then don't read Minivan. Read the propaganda from PPM, DRP, DQP or whatever other group you fancy. And if you like the regime's version, listen to or read their outlets. You see, this is the thing about democracy; everyone has the right to their views. Unlike pre-2008, you have to get used to other peoples' views that you may not agree with.

    As someone has already said, this comment amply demonstrates the whole point of Daniel's article.

  8. Many thanks for this article. It is absolutely brilliant. As a Maldivian living in western Europe, I feel humbled by the author's knowledge of writing skills, and also his ability to present facts on Maldives, that he experienced, very objectively.
    Staff writers working for Minivannews do a great job under most stressful living conditions, for them, in Male and the rest of Maldives.
    Foreigners do not know much about the Maldives, but, inspite of this, they write beautifully.
    They can do this because of the type of education they have had, and the type of societies they come from.
    The social and cultural background of Maldivian citizens is absolutely awful. That is why they cannot speak or write as the author and his compatriots can do.
    I am a Maldivian, but I am not proud of it.
    Thank you so much for writing.

  9. This is a war zone, Daniel. And it'll stay that way until one side is eradicated.

    Such is life in Soviet Maldives.

  10. Daniel. I appreciate your writing this article. It is brave to say these things to a Maldivian audience, but they need to be said. We still have a tribal mentality and opinions are shaped by such loyalties. The whole culture- religion, the auththoritarian regime and all sorts of child rearing practices enhance and strengthen our inability to think for ourselves. But these should not be our excuses. Some of us do share your concerns and I too am sadden to hear that a person has been beaten for his opinions. This seems to be where we are today as a culture, but what people like you do consistently make a difference. Attitudes are changing, slthough this is hard to see in day to day life. Many thanks for your honest and sincere article.

  11. @Ainth: Boy, are you an idiot.

    Personally, I'll take Minivan News over all the other 'news sources' in the Maldives atm. This site actually makes me feel like (even in sorry times) that we are a group of people with diverse opinions and viewpoints instead of a collective uniformly coloured school of fish that Maumoon made us think for years.

    Though, I'll admit the other news sites are getting better.

    Daniel, thank you for writing this article. As you've illustrated there is a certain fear that the news papers are mouth pieces of the politicians.

    To an extent this is true. During the Gayyoom era the newspapers were heavily censored and controlled by the Golhaa. For generations people grew up hearing the politicians.

    Now in the democratic era, you have news outlets like DhiTV that's hellbent on being anti-Nasheed, VTV that exists to promote Qaasim and RajjeTV that's heavily pro-MDP.

    The sentiment that journalists are just mouth pieces of the politicians is so prevalent is because it's true. It's what people have been exposed to for decades. Even true journalists like yourself, Ashwad and others that work for major news outlets gets overshadowed by the people who are hell bent on promoting a political party and slandering the opposition.

    Indeed, we don't have journalism in this country. We have televised podiums for the party leaders to promote themselves and defame the opposition.

  12. Asward did not deserve what happened to him. He was just doing his job whether or not the Police or the government liked it or not. He shares what he sees what he witnessed. May he return to the field.

    This could be a start of a really bad trend.

    ~Be safe~

  13. 1. Media is the security guard democracy. Other gate keepers (guards are judiciary, majlis and presidency)

    2. Media is a prositute of the businessman to spread fancy stories (so real story is hidden). There are no leaders in media.

    3. Judiciary is a loyal bitch of Gayoom.

    4. Majlis is a zoo (fed by resort owners)

    5. Presidency is a lame duck.

    Such is the status of this marvelous idea called 'democracy' in Maldives.

    Democracy has only made it simpler to corrupt institutions.

    Hope the the US and EU learn some lessons from bring 'democracy' to an unprepared setting. Are they taking responsibility?

  14. Here is the summary

    Democracy in Maldives = Media Prostitute + Bitch Judiciary + Majlis zoo + a lame duck in charge.

    Good night.

  15. @Uzi Arad
    you really think giving a summary like that would help anyone??!!!tsk tsk??!!


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