Maldives among few countries to improve press freedom

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day began with the news that the Maldives index has improved slightly following its 53 point leap last year, an achievement attributed to the new Constitution.

The Maldives is now ranked 102, equal place with Tanzina and Albania and marginally ahead of Turkey and Indonesia. The Maldives is still categorised as ‘partly free’, the reasons for which should be revealed when the country report is released in the coming days.

The rise came despite recent gang violence directed at media organisations and an attempt by police to block radio news coverage following emphatic protests outside MNDF headquarters and the President’s residence in January, drawing concern from the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and a number of media outlets.

Worldwide the index declined across almost every region in the world, for the eighth consecutive year, with one in six people now living in an environment without a free press. The only region to improve was Asia-Pacific, with significant strides in Bangladesh and Bhutan.

According to Freedom House, the international body that runs the index, countries are assessed on the developments of each calendar year, including the legal environment in which media operate, political influences and economic pressures.

Meanwhile, the two-day South Asia Regional Consultation on Freedom of Information: The Right to Know was launched in Holiday Inn this morning, by Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Dr Ali Sawad.

Delegates from the media, government and civil society organisations in countries including Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka met discuss the development and implementation of freedom of information laws as a means of combating corruption and enshrining free press as a fourth estate.

In a video address, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova noted that “every time we turn on the TV, turn on radio or go on the internet, the quality of what we hear depends on media having acess to accurate and up to date information.”

“The obstacles in the way of our right to know take many forms,” she said, “from lack of resources, to lack of infrastructure to deliberate obstruction. Far too many journalists suffer harassment, intimidation, and physical assault – all in a day’s work.”

Bokova called on government and civil society “to promote freedom of information all over the world.”

Many of the sessions on the first day of the conference focused around promoting freedom of information laws at a state level, however media representatives from countries including Bangladesh and Bhutan noted that even where freedom of information laws were available, they were not always used effectively by journalists.

Dehli Bureau Chief of The Hindu and keynote speaker Siddharth Varadarajan implied that freedom of information laws were less critical to freedom of the press “than our inability as journalists to transcend market forces and commercial considerations… and tendency to report trivia.”

Newspapers in India regularly sold “campaign coverage packages” to politicians come election season, he noted, a practice which “seriously compromises citizens’ trust in media content.”

A further consequence of such practices, he added, was a sense of dissatisfaction among journalists “at our inability to use the power at our disposal.”

“We have a responsiblity to be tougher, harder, and to call a spade a spade,” he said.

In his address, Dr Sawad similarly emphasised the responsibilities that came with the freedom of the press.

“With every right comes responsibilities,” Dr Sawad said. “In a free nation with free expression, the media must not forget its obligations to citizens to report fairly and accurately.”

The Maldives, he said, “has a very young free media, coming out of a culture where it was state owned and regulated. We have the challenge of dispelling the myth that the state represents media.”

Dr Sawad explained since its election, the current government “has committed to a step-by-step dismantling of the Department of Information, formerly the ministry of Information, to replace it with a stronger private media.”

State broadcasters Television Maldives (TVM) and radio station Voice of Maldives (VoM) had been placed under the new Maldivies National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), “a separate corporate entity with its own board and budget.”

A key challenge for the fledgling private media however was capacity building and training of its journalists, he explained.

“Private media has a very hard task. A lot of you are just past high school, with a keen professional interest in the field. But as we settle down and lay the foundations of democracy, we have to have to have the capacity to deliver democracy. You cannot give that objective to someone without the capacity to deliver it – the government has delivered democracy, but it has yet to be delivered to the people. ”

“Before the government lies the task of training, educating and strengthening the free press. As we celebrate UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, I call on the media to take up the challenge to deliver democracy with a sense of responsibility.”

The sessions continue tomorrow when President Mohamed Nasheed will launch the Journalist of the Year Award and Sukumar Muralidharan from the South Asian Chapter of the International Federation of Journalists will launch the South Asia Press Freedom Report.


4 thoughts on “Maldives among few countries to improve press freedom”

  1. Sawad has been doing an absolutely phenomenal job. I'm glad he mentioned the responsibilities associated with a free media. To this day, we have had reckless and inappropriate actions taken by the new media outlets in the country.

    Newspapers and station must understand what it means to spread lies and that both libel and slander be taken seriously. Everyone who is criticized publicly on television or in a newspaper/magazine must receive and an equal and fair opportunity to refute those criticisms (on those same media outlets).

    You cannot have newspapers printing rumor as if they are true without having done any investigative journalism beforehand! People are just sitting around making up stories based off of their perceptions, and for this to be passed off as news is not acceptable.

  2. Salim Waheed SHUT UP!! When you say "Sawad has been doing an absolutely phenomenal job"..TELL ME WHAT THE HELL SAWAD OR TRADE MINISTER OR YOUTH MINISTER OR MEGA MINISTER ASLAM have done in the past 1.8 year? These ministers have not given their best so far!! Salim you talk too much! You seriously needs to come to Maldives and engage in the Maldives politics before you open your mouth..and also while doing that you need to get out of Dr.Waheed's (ur father) shell and be independent to asses political situation and what the country truely needs! Grow up!

  3. Dear Free Advice,

    Well, aren’t we an intolerant little git. I do not make comments without thought and I do not give praise to people who do not deserve it. If I talk too much, then so should everyone else. Because that is what we need to be a progressive society – participation. My greatest desire is that everyone learns to participate and interact with our government, leaders, and community.

    I do not be in Maldives to know what is going on and I stand by my praise. And add this to it. Both Sawad and Rasheed is doing a phenomenal job!

    Sawad – Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture

    Sawad has directly contribute to opening the horizons of our people – at least those in Male’. Arts and cultural shows have increased exponentially, and he is helping to change the dynamics in which we evaluate both our society and the world.

    Sawad is extremely capable, and everyone whom I know who works with him thinks that he is a great boss who puts in both effort and time into doing a great job. He has constantly maintained good relationships with other ministries as well as the government and worked within MDP Itthihaad’s development framework! And what is even more important than that for tourism is that he has maintained close relations with the business community and the business sector of our country.

    He came to this job with the least experience out of any Minister, but has exceeded ALL expectations. His performance and that of his Ministry is a credit to our nation and an invaluable part of this government.

    Sawad has also made huge sacrifices. He gave up his entire life in Australia and is now managing what has always been an extremely difficult Ministry. And anyone who has listened to Sawad’s speeches will understand that is both learned and scholarly. He is not afraid to express his thoughts and say what he thinks is right and for that I have great respect for him.

    With all this, I believe that I am extremely unbiased! However, where I am biased is when it comes to Rasheed.

    Rasheed - Minister of Trade and Economic Development

    I am biased with Rasheed because he is a GIP Minister and because I’ve known the man for most of my life. As a child he has been a pillar of hard work and good sense. Like Sawad he has given up a lot to be in Maldives.

    Rasheed has made more sacrifices to work in Maldives than any other Minister! He gave up an amazing job with the United Nations (WHO), a comfortable home abroad, and a staff that loved him to suddenly move to the Maldives. He moved without accommodation, without support, and because of the sole desire to help the Maldivian People. Being a Minister in Maldives is a thankless job. There is no special privileges, no special amenities, and of course a ridiculously charged political climate!

    Unlike with Sawad – because Rasheed is a GIP member, I know more about specific programs he’s implemented. Even though he has a tiny budget (relatively) he has been able to issue Small and Medium Business loans to more than 250 people. Almost 40% of those people are women.

    Rasheed has negotiated and signed agreements with the United States government, and now the duty on Maldivian Exports which exceed 2000 being sent to the US is waived! Another agreement he has signed with the US Government provides opportunities for American Companies to invest in Maldives using American Government loans, directly contributing to our potential for growth and move beyond the economic destitution that the previous administration left for us!

    But let’s forget Foreign things for a moment, and look at Maldives. He has cleaned up and straightened out the Company Registers – which was a mess when we took over. Now, we actually have a system where they are required to pay their feels on a timely basis and no longer rely on favors to rob the government of desperately needed funds.

    He has two Masters Degrees from Harvard, has countless years of administrative experience, and has managed his ministry without fights with Civil Servants! He is the only member of the cabinet who speaks Chinese – being fluent in Mandarin. (And do keep in mind that China is the second largest economy in the world).

    And the most impressive thing is that he has done all of this even though his area of expertise is HEALTH CARE. He pioneered programs under WHO and is an expert in Health Care programs – but maybe the Health Ministry was just too big a Ministry to give to GIP since we are a small party.

    I also know the man. He is caring, compassionate, and dedicated to our nation. He was kicked out of the Health Ministry in the 1990s because he wanted to make a difference! I have a great amount of love and respect for him – and am ridiculously biased.

    But I’m not really biased with Aslam or Hassanco.

    Aslam – Minister of Housing, Transport and Enviroment

    I only really got to know Aslam during the campaign when we formed MDP Itthihaad. He helped create the Manifesto, was extremely diligent and is well deserving of this post. It is not his fault that so many Ministries have been lumped together and then dumped on him. His “Mega Ministry” as you call it is responsible for TWO of our pledges and he has a monumental job.

    The fact remains that he is one of the best experts in this country on the environment, and he will be able to ensure that the large infrastructure projects that we are planning will not also destroy our delicate environment with thoughtless practices. The kinds of practices which has lead to beach erosion and ridiculous amounts of pollution that the previous administration simply did not care about. Because of them it is MY generation that will have to deal with the problems. And my children who are irreparably damages.

    I wish I knew more about Aslam and Hassanco, but I’ll make it a point to when I move to Male’. I don’t need to be in Male’ to have told you what I just did. And I stand by my assessment of Sawad and Rasheed 100%, and I fully condemn anyone who calls for either’s resignation.

    DrW Shell:

    As for my “Dr. Waheed” shell – well, I have very different opinions than my father. He is far more moderate than I am. But I also have a lot less patience than he does. I will always be biased because of how much his politics has affected my life. I will always see things from a perspective advocating development over expediency. And I believe that even my biases – and my recognition of those biases – help me evaluate things far more clearly than most people.

    Grow up!? Well, I think I’m pretty grown. I’m opinionated, and always open to new suggestions. But the day I shut up is the day my heart stops beating. The day air leaves my lungs and the light of God leaves my eyes. Our country will never again be a place of repression and I will oppose anyone who tries to silence another.

  4. Salim Waheed, seriously think a harvard 20 degree's makes a minister a good political material? If so why aren't all harvard and Oxford graduates not ruling the world? You have no political maturity! Go and ask ordinary folks about GIP ministers like Trade Minister! He was in his party public meeting in front seat clapping and cheering when his GIP-DRP(PA) organized activists were out bursting at privatization policy..what contradiction is that??? Explain that to me pls! When you say.."Rasheed has negotiated and signed agreements with the United States government, and now the duty on Maldivian Exports which exceed 2000 being sent to the US is waived! Another agreement he has signed with the US Government provides opportunities for American Companies to invest in Maldives using American Government loans, directly"..blah..blah..YOU VERY WELL KNOW IT WAS THE HARD WORK OF DR.SHAHEED (THE DEDICATED FOREIGN MINISTER) AND TRADE MINISTER JUST TOOK THE NAME AND FAME OF IT!
    AND you say trade minister is working hard to sort out the issues faced by companies? What did he do there? ohh yes..he is protecting his two brother-in-law's (Kasim and Champa)business in Maldives. What a joke! And you say he is helping Small and Medium Enterprises? Thats another BIG joke! Go ask local businessmen other that his favorites..they would tel you the truth! Tell me what tangible thing did he deliver? Dr.Shaheed is far better..though you may secretly call him a spinner!


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