Comment: Maldives Media at the Crossroads

Press freedom. Media Freedom. Right to Information.

Several years ago these were taboo words in the Maldives. Now they have become the mantra of the local media. Ironically it is coming from those people who resisted the introduction of these democratic instruments into Maldives.

The chant now is ‘self regulation’. And that coming especially from the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) is worrying.

The MJA has become the grand mufti of the nation’s media. They have become the sole experts to assess the media. But in a country like the Maldives where everyone is familiar with each other, the views of MJA are like that of a serial killer calling for human rights.

If MJA claims to be a voice for free media they are a bit late for this. Such freedoms have undoubtedly been established. The noble deed was done by some others who started the process almost twenty years ago. They risked their lives like those doing a massive clean-up while the storm was blowing. By now, they have stashed their tools and dumped the garbage and are busy with more clean-ups.

Rumor has it that MJA is synonymous to Haveeru – the oldest daily of over 30 years and supposedly with the largest audience. The President of MJA – Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir has been the editor of Haveeru for most of its life.

For me, MJA’s credibility has always been questionable; among many other contexts is its representation of local media. I asked the President of MJA for a list of its membership. But sadly, he ignored my request. That was from the very person who calls for freedom of information.

I logged onto the MJA website. The executive committee members were disclosed there. To my disappointment, they turn out to be the silent forces that resisted the movement to establish the very freedoms that the Maldivians enjoy today.

Now these forces are busy producing the media junk that Maldivians are exposed to, every time they turn a radio or a TV on.

I cannot say such trash is entirely due to the lack of professional training of the local journalists. In the current scenario, the security of your job as a journalist in private media depends on your willingness to attack the government. The editors discount the ethics of their profession when it comes to imposing their views on the general public and violate the average person’s right to information.

I have always had deep suspicions about those who change their tune overnight and take multiple forms. Haveeru was definitely not advocating freedom of expression and press freedom in 2007.

My experience with them dates back to March 20, 2007, when one of my articles was published in a local paper.

In relation to that, I remember Haveeru was way ahead of others in portraying me as an ignorant apostate of Islam. I saw no wrong on my part as I was merely expressing my opinion. However, Haveeru was quick to twist my opinion as the view point of my employer. Further, they spiced up their story with quotes of those who shared their views.

On May 3, 2007, on World Press Freedom Day, the police chased me on the road and finally carried me to the police station. At the station, on live TV, I saw the official functions to mark the day. Soon I was delivered to the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, to have the views I expressed in the article “corrected”. Still Haveeru never mentioned that I was exercising my right to expression.

The election of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) held on 28th March 2010 is a case in point for assessing the credibility of the MJA.

I ran for a seat in the MMC. I was one of the two women shortlisted along with 13 men competing for seven seats to represent the public there. Two other women competed with nine men to represent the registered media in the council. The voters consisted of 20 registered media outlets.

MMC was formed with a blatant gender gap – a consequence of MJA’s attempt to ensure that the MMC is their subsidiary branch. MJA’s preferences unfortunately represent my loss.

A press release from the MJA on 18th March 2010 reads:

“While there is no room for us to deem the procedure was not politically motivated, our Association has noticed that the announced candidates include former frontline members of political parties.”

Six months ago, I worked as a purely administrative, senior secretary of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). I am certainly proud that I contributed to the social and political reform of my country through my work there. Especially when MDP represents the leaders who brought us not only the freedom of expression but all the freedoms that Maldivians entertain today.

I found it surprising MJA failed to look beyond my one identity.

I have several identities. I was a school teacher who taught primary school kids, college kids, adults. I was a coordinator for UN funded projects on areas such as Population Education, Empowerment of Women, Reproductive health and Life skills. I have received government’s pension for 20 years of public service. I was a reporter and an editor for a local daily with an adequate level of professional training. I wrote many articles on social issues for the media including Haveeru and their English magazine ‘The Evening Weekly.’ I am a graduate of social science – one of the very few who ran in the MMC elections who had a university degree. Most importantly I am a mother of three grown up children.

Despite the dragging complaints by MJA on the MMC elections, they did not see anything wrong with Haveeru casting three votes as separate sources – Haveerudaily, Haveeru online (they have the same news stories and articles) and Haveeru FM (a music channel). Yet they failed to field a single female candidate from their establishment. MJA’s President and Editor of Haveeru, Ahmed Zahir, told me the MJA does not work for gender equality.

So far, MJA has been busy lambasting the government. But they have never taken a look inwards at how their media is performing. The aggressive promotion of gender stereotypes, gender discriminations and extremist viewpoints are probably not something they comprehend.

The MJA has undoubtedly achieved their main objective, which is attracting the attention of the international organisations. MJA knows that international organisations, to complete their tasks, depend heavily on local groups. This means that one can work for the benefit of the other. The building blocks for the MJA’s powerbase have started streaming in, in the form of training opportunities, local and international platforms and scholarships. MJA knows that the work plan of international organisations does not always include close scrutiny of people to whom they hand over funds.

The World Press Freedom Day was celebrated in Maldives last week. A two day consultation on Freedom of Information was held. The event was organised jointly by the Maldivian government and UNESCO. The local media personnel and representatives of the regional media participated at this workshop.

I watched the inauguration of the event live on TV. I also made some notes as distinguished people gave their speeches. One of them urged to deliver democracy with responsibility. Another pointed out that right to information is not the journalist’s right to information, but the right to information of the ordinary person on the street. The UNESCO Director General stressed the importance of quality of information and its dependence on the availability of accurate and up-to-date information for the journalists. The keynote speaker touched on a core value of the profession. He indicated that right to information is less satisfied by law than the desire, ability and choice of the journalist to choose the right information for the job.

The point leap of Maldives in the Press freedom Index was mentioned before the event was over. I did not find anyone there who helped bring that leap. No faces and no mention of names of those who over the past twenty years, at their own behest, struggled and made sacrifices to bring the media freedom we witness in the country today. Paradoxically, the hall was full of those locals who vehemently obstructed media freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

I ask myself why I wrote what I’ve written here. Is it worth? Or is it a waste of time?

At its worst, my readers will view me as a disgruntled person, taking it out personally on the MJA.

At its best, my readers will view my comments in a broader context.

As the Maldives transforms from a society of consensus – a condition forced by political repression – into a society of conflict, caused by the newly acquired freedoms, the role of media now, could never be more critical for the future of this nation.

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]


22 thoughts on “Comment: Maldives Media at the Crossroads”

  1. You know Aniya, sometimes it is a waste of time to remind people like Hirigaa about the fear they created amongst most people just a few years ago. People like you Aniya won the battle for the country, inspite of people like Hirgaa, and that is a fact!

  2. A pathetic piece of writing. Definitetly you are a disgruntled person, because you have been rejected by your aliases and alter-pseudonyms. What makes you think that being party to the "mentally deranged paranoids" makes you eligibly or special for being given special considerations. A pity that you so ignorantly go on to blame "others", "those people"....blah blah blah. Aniya you are so lame. Your writings are not worth anything........worthwhile. Like your mentally deranged paranoids ...aka MDP...who are chasing ghosts and ghost ideology. Pity you.

  3. aniya...i admire you, woman to woman. and all that you stand for.

    but isn't this all about politics after all?
    MDP is doing the very same things, with a few twists here and there, as was done by the previous govt.

    when the tables turn, this is what happens. it is inevitable...

  4. Aniya, i understand and respect your view point. i should say i fully agree with you. I hope you would organize a movement to challenge people like hirigaa. its really needed.

  5. now that adhaalath is going to control the media through the new unity regulation good bye to media.

  6. @ The Musketeer; you sound defeated and make no sense in what you had expressed

  7. Aniya this is a superb piece of writing, i really admire you for writing this while Hirigaa is in the helm of our media here. He is a person who never acknowledge what others are contributing for the media. Its good that others like you are voicing your thoughts. What i can say is just be truthful and say the truth and only the truth nothing else......

  8. It is true a lot sacrificed for media freedom and we have to respect and honer them. But as an educated person Aniya you should know that it does not mean that it is a must to give them council membership.

    What Hiriga says is baseless. He does not understand if a former frontline members of political party was rejected that will also be a political move. So i refrain from talking about him more.

    I do not agree that MMC will ever be a subsidiary branch MJA. From the results of Media Council I don't see much of MJA power, rather a power scatterd into newly formed journalist association Maldives National Journalist Association(MNJA)..
    here are the Media 8 members
    1. Saif Azhar from Haama News
    2. Mohamed Nazeef from Radio Atoll
    3. Mohamed Muhsin from Television Maldives
    4. Shiham Mohamed Waheed from VTV
    5. Mohamed Haleem from Sungadi
    6. Ahmed Abdulla Saeed from Haveeru News
    7. Ismail Rasheed from Aaila Majala
    8. Masoodh Hilmy from Dhi FM

    And from the public also I find lawyers and business men and women who have what you call "university degree".

    1. Fathimath Ishan Ali - G. Aina Adams
    2. Ahmed Abdulla - H. Romania
    3. Mohamed Asim Abdul - Hadhi Ma. Kekuri
    4. Ali Waheed Hassan Manik - Ma. Silver Scene
    5. Anas Abdul Sathaar - M. Badikulhumaage
    6. Ahmed Faisal - H. Crest
    7. Mohamed Fareedh - M. Mohamedy Abaadh

  9. I heavily doubt that people like hiriga really grasps the concept of 'Free Media'.

    Such noises made by the same people who hesitates and sometimes refuses to publish opinions and reports that are considered social taboo

  10. While I agree with Aniya on a lot of the issues that she has raised here, there is nothing that is stopping from Aniya and other journalists who feel that the MJA is dominated by 'the silent forces that resisted the movement to establish the very freedoms..", to establish another Journalists Association. In most democracies there are several.

    I believe positive action is the only way that we can move forward. Too often we just criticize and do little else.

    If MJA is just a mouth-piece for Haveeru, then I believe there should be an alternative to MJA. Instead of criticizing MJA, I believe like-minded people should form a more balanced, representative organization of journalists. I can think of several journalists who will join up.

  11. "MJA knows that the work plan of international organisations does not always include close scrutiny of people to whom they hand over funds"...interesting dilemma... the validity and competence of international institutes/NGOs/Organizations hav then become obvious, thanx to hiriga eh..... how else is it that one arm of a despotic, undemocratic regime is suddenly portrayed as the "good side"..... or is there some truth to what they are preaching now as well?.....

    anyhoo,... lotta wild stuff remains to happen within, wiithout government


  12. Aaniya, I completely agree with you. I was also a candidate contesting in the MMC election as a member of public. And when I looked backed to the registered 20 media for voting us, I saw names such as "Vanni Majalla", "Gundolhi", etc. which none of us have ever heard of, and oh I also agree with you about Haveeru's 3 votes in different names (Haveeru Online, Haveeru Daily, Haveeru FM). This was the proof of what you are saying i.e. MJA wants MMC to be in its hands and after all, I know what Hiriga was doing there exactly. Remember, his name was not even registered as a representative from Haveeru and it was declared by the secretariat. But somehow, me managed to poke his nose into it. He was controlling votes from DhiFM, DhiTV, Haveeru, Haveeru Online, Haveeru Daily, Aafathis and all those never-before-heard and never-ever-published magazines.

    I also believe you deserve respect for the works that you have done over many years to achieve the freedom of expression we are enjoying today. And I completely agree with you that those claiming they are the defenders of freedom of speech and right to information were really those who opposed and attempted to butcher it from the very first day it was ever said in the country.

    Anyway Aaniya, this is a good piece of writing and I think every sentence is worth it. Keep it up!

  13. Oh, and one more thing Aaniya, when you said about university degree I believe, and as I understand from the context of the article, you meant a university degree in social sciences isn't it?

  14. Aniya, you have one another identity also. That is You have written Disgraceful things against islam in Media and you lost you job at MDP when islamic wing of MDP protested and forced Anni to suspend you.

    You also have another identity, that is you former husband divorced you for One Grave Reason. (you know what i am talking about)

    Aniya dont just use women women right as a tool to gain whatever you want. You are one selfish, ill mouth person, who do not respect islam, unity or any form of good journalism. You have also high temper, which Anni himself know very clearly, thats why you are been kept away.

  15. a person who promote human rights doesn't degrade another person for personal interest. MJA is an NGO who fight for freedom of expression, it may not the freedom what Aniya need to be.ofcz there is no obligation for Aniya to become MJA's elected president after become a member of MJA. Hiriga is not an appointee but elected.Aniya must know that before writing such type of rubbish.

  16. 2A Saeed - an obviously politicized lapdog of the old guard (not a bad writer though).

    Sungadi - A magazine which, to my knowledge, was only published for the sole reason of securing Mohamed Haleem a seat in the MMC. An insignificant young lad who aspires to becoming a opportunistic sock-puppet politician ('a la Ali Waheed) named Yamin Rasheed who has had a plethora of political strings tied to his behind works for Haleem on this "project" to discredit and politicize the media.

    Ania is a woman worthy of respect. I once pretended to work in a print daily called Hamaroalhi which was a blatant party mouthpiece of the DRP - not one of my shining moments, although I can proudly claim to have never written anything for said paper. I remember seeing Ania at work and the sincerity and dedication to profession made her stand out among a sea of shameless profiteers.

    Integrity and a commitment to professional ethics is not in great demand in thsi country. One has to accept it as a matter of course. The powers that be are too strong to fight in this regard and a shift in the right direction has been hampered by pitstops along the way to sate the hunger of favorites of the current administration.

    "Hiriga" Zahir is just trying to make a name and a buck. Like any other Maldivian citizen. National interest be damned.

  17. You did not know what you were writing, that's very pathetic!
    You wrote something and tried to make sense of what came to your mind. This is crap, really.

  18. my temper will gadly bow to reason and truth, that which ever makes sense and is based in logic and separate from bias or prejudice.

    Anni has no choice but to listen to me. He must control his temper because his vision is clouded by his failure to grasp it for himself, and the predatory nature of those he must encircle himself with.
    He has my respect and admiration. This however does not grant him my undying subservience or obedience (aadhe masaahibu:). Given the option( i find this particular line i am about to make quite hillarious) of supporting him or anyother in the political scene, i would support him. This is not because i am loyal to him or because i dont like the others. This because i see a flame inside him, which he- neither his temper, nor his aides, nor his loyalists, nor his Party can give the oxygen needed to grow.

    The other party leaders are too old, too deeply rooted in 'dhoadhiyaakan', too ignorant, too greedy etc. The foker anni however can be harnessed and trained, if he is willing to seek consultation and consul. etc etc


  19. i am really surprised to see that still you are trying to defend what you wrote in 2007 is correct. do you think you can say anything with regard to a fundamental issue of islam and defend your view saying that is just your opinion. if that is so you dont know anything about islam. that indicates just one thing.that is you dont really believe in the basic principles of islam. you dont believe that what is prescribed in islam is the best way. in simple words, you dont believe on what allah has revealed is the best way.

  20. I read half of your this article and got dead bored.... Look whoever You are... think with logic and reasoning. Leave personal grudges aside... MJA is remarkable. otherwise? Why so much attention and scrutiny???? You can establish your identity anywhere suitable to you.

  21. aniya is a les and she can only do that, and we should not forget that she is the lady who wrote an article contradicts to tenets of islam in minivan news print edition while she was the secretary general for MDP and on this so called Anni (presidents)news paper. And it is not surprising when this article was published here wen this online version of minivan news is registered under Annis brother (Nazims) name. kekekek!

    Minivan News has never had a print edition. You may be referring to 'Minivan Daily', an unrelated newspaper that ceased publication in 2008.


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