The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has questioned the decision by the Maldives Police Service to ask DhiFM news editor Mohamed Jinah Ali about the authenticity of a news story concerning a leaked examination paper.
The report, aired on December 29, 2010, alleged that an international standard O’Level examination paper was leaked and later found hidden in a fish container.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that police were asked to investigate the accuracy of the story by the Department of Public Examinations (DPE).
“They say the story was completely false,” Shiyam said.
Police had discussed the matter with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) which had not sought to block police from investigating the case, Shiyam said.
While defamation has been decriminalised in the Maldives, disseminating false information technically remains a crime under the 1968 Penal Code, and attracts a fine of between Rf25-200 (US$1.6-US$12.9) depending on severity.
Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer told Minivan News that the story published by DhiFM concerned an exam conducted by a private company and had no connection with the Department of Public Examination, as inferred in the story.
“There is no truth in it at all – we had a chat with the guy who reported it. It was a private company conducting the exam – it had nothing to do with the DPE,” he said. “The guy at DhiFM who reported it told us he heard it from a guy who worked at Sri Lankan Airlines. It was a sensitive issue fabricated for the sake of gaining publicity.”
Dr Nazeer claimed the DPE had approached police over the matter “because at the time there was no media authority.”
President of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) Mohamed Nazeef however expressed concern about the government’s request that police investigate a matter concerning media ethics.
“The complaint made [by the DPE] was about DhiFM’s story – there doesn’t seem to have been a crime committed,” Nazeef said. “So what are the police trying to investigate?”
He speculated that the DPE may have made the complaint seeking to identify the source of the story within its own department.
“The original story said that the information came from an informant inside the department. What they probably want to know is the name of the official,” Nazreef suggested.
“I don’t know whether the story is true – journalists report from their sources. If there is an issue with [a story] then the complaint should be sent to the media council, or the broadcasting commission. The constitution guarantees the protection of sources.”
Nazreef noted that the MMC had no role in the matter while it was being investigated by official authority, such as the police.
“We are waiting to see how this goes off. If it goes against the Constitution we will issue a statement,” he said. “It will take some time for us to digest new media freedoms. There is a long tradition in this country of going to the police and seeking the punishment of journalists for something they have published.”