The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has become an associate member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), giving its members international credibility and recognition as media professionals.
Founded in 1926, the IFJ is the world’s largest journalist organisation with 600,000 members in over 100 countries, and speaks for journalists within the United Nations system. The organisation itself is apolitical but nonetheless promotes human rights, democracy and pluralism. It vehemently condemns the use of media as propaganda or to promote intolerance and conflict.
President of the MJA Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the membership was a “significant achievement” for the rights of the press in the Maldives, and a goal the association had been striving towards for since April last year.
While the membership grants international recognition, ongoing education and development of journalism in the country was still needed, Hiriga explained.
“I know the Faculty of Education is running a course in journalism, but I’ve heard it’s mostly history – I haven’t heard of any experienced specialists teaching there,” he said.
Seeking assistance for the development of Maldivian journalism was one of the requests made by MJA members during a recent trip to the embassies in Colombo.
“We asked for support to help give us training and fund scholarships for Maldivian journalists, but most said they had a tight budget,” Hiriga said.
“They did say they were most concerned about the situation in the Maldives following the recent gang attacks [on media].”
Hiriga said the MJA had also expressed its concerns about indirect oppression of the media “behind the scenes.”
“There is press freedom [in the sense] that the government is so far not directly jailing journalists,” he noted.
In a letter to the MJA, the IFJ said it was pleased to accept the MJA’s membership “and work with it to address the challenges and pressures the Maldives media faces.”
Editor of daily newspaper Miadhu, Abdulla Latheef, said he did not think the IFJ membership would be beneficial for the Maldivian media at-large as “because half [the MJA’s] senior members are from Haveeru [the daily newspaper of which Hiriga is editor].”
Latheef said after gang attacks on television station DhiTV and a Haveeru printery staff member, “the MJA did not even hold a meeting or even check to see whether its members were fine.”
”I believe the organisation is trying to take over the media,” he said. ”I am a member of it, anyway.”