MBC requests government’s commitment to uphold media freedom

Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has requested President Abdulla Yameen include two points related to media freedom in his “first hundred days” plans – a series of objectives announced by government institutions to be achieved within the first hundred days of his presidency.

In a letter addressed to the President Yameen, MBC President Mohamed Shaheeb requested to that all cases filed against journalists and broadcasters be withdrawn and for the president and government institutions to sign the five-point pledge to uphold media freedom proposed by the commission.

He asked the president to make these two requests part of the hundred-day road map, suggesting said that doing so will show the new government’s level of commitment to ensure media freedom in the Maldives.

MBC’s five-point pledge was first formulated in 2013 during Dr Mohamed Waheed’s presidency. The commission had planned and announced an event for signing the pledge to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, although the event was later cancelled.

The “right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas” is enshrined in Article 28 of the constitution, as is the right to protect sources of information.

The five points of the pledge were as follows;

  • To be free from prejudice by giving fair and equal access to the media.
  • To ensure the safety of journalists,
  • To protect journalists from punitive measures and harassment,
  • To provide a conducive environment for journalists to do their jobs,
  • To enhance the role of media in a democracy by allowing free flow of information.

During President Waheed’s presidency, the Maldives saw a decline in press freedom, falling thirty places on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index to 103 rd.

RSF noted that, following the events of 7 February 2012, the Maldives witnessed violence and threats against journalists, including the first attempted murder of a journalist.

“Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests,” reported the press freedom NGO.

President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) was a coalition partner in the Waheed government, with party members holding various senior government posts. Yameen’s Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was Home Minister under Waheed, at the time describing the opposition MDP aligned ‘Raajje TV’ as an “enemy of the state”.

Raajje TV faced the most discrimination and violence during this period – one prominent journalist was seriously injured in an attack in February last year, before the station’s headquarters were burned down last October in a premeditated arson attack.

The destruction of Raajje’s studio brought international condemnation, with particular criticism reserved for the police’s failure to prevent the attack. The Police Integrity Commission last month recommended prosecution of two officers in relation to their negligence on the night of the attack.

Shortly after President Yameen’s inaugration, police sent a case involving senior officials RTV for criminal prosecution regarding the broadcasting of a report critical of the Supreme Court. Both MBC and the Maldves Media Council (MMC) – independent institutions tasked with media regulation – have expressed concern over the matter.