The Department of Information has docked five points from DhiFM’s broadcasting license for eight contract violations, following its coverage of the protest outside the president’s residence on 28 January.
Police accused DhiFM of airing live interviews with people calling for others to join the protest and overthrow the government through violence. DhiFM claimed plain clothed officers entered the station’s premises and demanded the broadcast be terminated, raising the ire of advocates for media freedom.
The content review committee at the Department of Information found that DhiFM’s coverage breached aspects of the code including failing to distinguish between fact and opinion, produce unbiased and balance coverage of controversial/political events, and promoting criminal activities as “something good or acceptable’.
Ameen Faisal, news editor at DhiFM, confirmed the committee had requested a copy of the coverage, and following receipt of a letter informing the station of the findings the board of directors had decided not to comment on the issue.
Following the protest, Independent MP and former Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed explained that while the Maldives’ broadcasting legislation contained details for disciplinary action but was intentionally designed to include hurdles to make it difficult for the government to close a station.
“Broadcast licences are issued for a year and come with 100 points for every six months, much like a driving licence,” he explained.
“[In the event of a complaint] an independent content committee appointed by the [department of information] will act like jury – if the majority agree a maximum of 10 points can be deducted for an offence, and to terminate a broadcast licence the committee must be unanimous.
“Only then can the [department of information] ask police or defence to enforce the order on behalf of the committee.”
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, under whose jurisdiction the department of information falls, said the five point deduction amounted to a “symbolic gesture”.
“That was the conclusion of the committee, we do not interfere in the process,” he said. “The contract does not stipulate provision for redress, but we are open to discussion and willing to take it back to the committee.”
Sawad said he believed that “in principle this is not something the executive should be doing. But because there is an existing contract we have to fulfil our duty.”
He said that in the future the issue of government involvement in disciplinary action against broadcasters could be avoided by the creation of an independent media council, a bill currently before the parliament.
The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) issued a statement condemning the disciplinary action, accusing the government “putting hurdles on the freedom of expression and freedom of press that is guaranteed by the new Constitution to the citizens and press.”
“We see the government’s move to sanction DhiFM as a very low act, which goes against democratic principals and the transparent, caring government they claim to have. Cutting points like this from any media that opposes the government to the point that their license could be cancelled shows disregard for democracy the power the government can wield over media,” the MJA said, calling on international organisations to take action and “not let this government bury and squash this newborn free media.”
In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Mohamed Nasheed said most people did not accept that the media acted responsibly when disseminating or presenting information.
The president said a member of parliament complained to him during the past week when several TV and radio stations had broadcast inappropriate remarks about his parents.
“He asked me why the government isn’t taking any action or why we are not concerned,” he said. “What I have to say is that unless everyone does this responsibly, it will be difficult for us to achieve the kind of progress we want and the kind of media that we want.”
He added that he told the MP to take whatever action he could as the president too did not believe that the comments about the MPs family were appropriate.
DhiFM’s breaches of the broadcasting code, according to the Department of Information:
- programmes should not portray or promote criminal activities as ‘something good or acceptable’
- coverage of political stories and current affairs that could be controversial should be unbiased and balanced
- if doubt is cast on any point of the coverage or if inaccurate information is presented, a retraction/correction must be made at the earliest possible time
- information must not be presented in a misleading way and ‘[the broadcaster] should stay clear of presenting programmes in a way that could induce anxiety and fear without a valid reason’
- the broadcaster must distinguish between fact and opinion in their coverage, and both should not be presented together as fact
- sources of information for news, documentaries and other programmes must be reliable
- should be mindful of the suffering of victims of tragic incidents and compassionate in presenting their stories
- respect privacy and be mindful of the rights of children and adolescents