The MDP intends to lodge a complaint against the current practices of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) state media outlets, Television Maldives (TVM), and the radio station, Voice of Maldives (VOM).
In a letter, the MDP accused the MBC of violating the agreements mandated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Act of August 2010 by producing biased content and not giving adequate exposure to all political groups.
TVM and VOM were, the MDP argued, “being blatantly used as propaganda outlets of the coup regime, while the ongoing peaceful political activities of the MDP are being sidelined with little regard to the MBC’s mandate and the nation’s laws under which the MBC is functional.”
“State media airwaves are being clogged incessantly with interviews, views, opinions, and press conferences detailing the regime’s vision by regime loyalist political parties,” MDP alleged.
“On March 6, MDP’s request to buy airtime to broadcast a crucial press conference by Maldives’ first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed was met with silence.”
The MDP also accused the group of allowing politicians from the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) unfettered access to TVM studios and editing booths in contravention of its independent credentials.
JP MP Abbas Adil Riza, named in the letter as one of the MPs seen at TVM, strongly denied the accusation. He was unaware of the complaint and said he did not wish to see the letter. Also named in the letter are the JP’s Ali Hashim and the DQP’s Adbulla Ameen.
The letter reads “MBC is legally bound and mandated to ensure impartiality and independence in its role as a public service provider”.
“According to Article 2 (c) of the Maldives Broadcasting Act the MBC must facilitate nationwide, equitable, and acceptable transmission and broadcasting. According to Article 3 of the Broadcasting Act the MBC is an independent commission of the State.”
The timing of this complaint appears to be related to the Corporation’s failure to respond to MDP requests for media coverage of a speech by former President Mohamed Nasheed on March 6. Copies of the letter were sent to the MBC as well as to the independent media watchdog the Media Council of the Maldives (MMC) on March 7.
The MMC’s duties as prescribed in the Maldives Media Council Bill, is to preserve media freedom and promote ethical practices, as well as to investigate any complaints filed.
Minivan News itself experienced difficulty when trying to contact the MBC for comment on the issues raised by the MDP.
After a group of police, military and opposition supporters stormed the state broadcaster on February 7, shortly after an assault on the military base in Republic Square, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government rebranded MNBC as TVM – the broadcaster’s title under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.
MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010 the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which the Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board. Days after the events of February 7, TVM was handed to MBC by the new government.
After this takeover, Chairman of MBC Ibrahim Umar Manik expressed his commitment to run the state media with “impartiality” and within legal bounds.
“As stated in the law, we will operate the two stations as a public broadcaster by bringing independent news, information and programs,” Manik claimed.
Maldives Media Council
President of the Maldives Media Council Mohamed Nazeef said he was not yet aware of the MDP complaint although he stated that he would “be very interested” if it were to come to his attention.
His desk is the first place such complaints go to when received, at which point it is standard practice for the Council to attempt a resolution before the official investigative procedures are initiated.
A member of the Council’s Secretariat said no official complaints had been received in recent weeks although there had been a slight increase in the number of people making informal complaints in person.
Discussing the current condition of public media in the country, Nazeef said that he had “noticed an improvement” in the weeks since the Nasheed administration ended.
“[Public Broadcasters] can’t do the same thing as before. They have to give equal time to all political parties,” Nazeef said.
He said he believed that there was little difference between the Gayoom and the Nasheed eras, in terms of media impartiality.
“Television Maldives was same before [under Nasheed] as it had been for thirty years under Gayoom, apart from 2007 and 2008, when it was a little more lenient,” he said.
The most pressing concerns, in the opinion of the Council President, are the lack of social programming and need for better education in the sector. A typical area mentioned as being in need of improvement was investigative journalism.
“This is where the media fails in the past twenty years,” Nazeef continued, “most people are trained for private broadcasting.”
Nazeef recently discussed these issues with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which advocates a robust media as the key to sustaining democracy.