Transparency Maldives has published a report monitoring the performance and bias of six media outlets between March 23 and April 4 of this year.
The six outlets evaluated were DhiTV, MNBC One and VTV (television), and Haveeru, Miadhu and Minivan News (print).
News content produced by these outlets during the reporting period was categorised by subject (corruption, politics, human rights, etc), the air time and centimetres of coverage recorded, and the tone assessed (positive, negative, neutral).
This was reported by three people who ranked the connotations of words and pictures from positive to negative on a scale of 1-5.
Transparency Maldives observed notable limitations in the report, most significantly the small time period (two weeks) of monitoring. There was also no analysis of the order of news stories indicating the priority of subjects to the Maldivian press, or the omission of coverage.
Content was also subject to the news agenda of the short reporting period, and the subject matter of stories analysed did not incorporate stories relating to crime, gender or religion.
Key headlines on Minivan during the reporting period included: ‘Death of tourist at Kuredhoo Island Resort last year was accidental, finds UK inquest’, ‘Parliament falling short of public expectations despite work rate, says Speaker Shahid,’ ‘Mahlouf calls on DRP supporters to shun “Thasmeen faction” rally’, ‘Blackmarket dollar crackdown won’t address demand, warn businesses, financial experts’, ‘Judges legitimised JSC’s actions with their silence’, and ‘Staff threw stones at intruder and left him in the water to drown, alleges Baros staff member’.
DhiTV was the first private television station to be registered in the Maldives in 2008, by local businessman Mohamed ‘Champa’ Moosa. It faces allegations from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of favouring the opposition.
25 percent of DhiTV’s coverage of parliament and 36 percent of its coverage of government during the reporting period was negative. Other subjects with a high weight of negative coverage included President Mohamed Nasheed (41 percent), Ahmed Thasmeen Ali’s faction of the opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (43 percent), and the Maldivian Democratic Party (22 percent).
DhiTV’s most balanced coverage was of police, which was 80 percent neutral.
MNBC is a 100 percent government owned corporation that manages the assets of former state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM). It is currently locked in a legal dispute for its assets with the Maldives Broadcast Corporation (MBC), a body created by the then opposition-majority parliament. It faces allegations from opposition parties of favouring the government.
Twelve percent of MNBC’s coverage of the government during the reporting period was positive, and four percent negative (the remainder was neutral). 17 percent of the station’s coverage of President Mohamed Nasheed was positive and 83 percent was neutral – there was no negative coverage of the President during the reporting period.
All of MNBC’s coverage of the council, police and Adhaalath Party was neutral.
Villa TV (VTV) is owned and funded by local business tycoon and Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, and faces allegations of political bias due to the nature of its ownership.
VTV’s coverage of parliament was very neutral (90 percent), while its coverage of government during the reporting period was 35 percent negative.
Coverage of Ahmed Thasmeen Ali’s faction of the opposition (DRP) was overwhelmingly negative (67 percent), significantly more so than its coverage of the MDP (20 percent negative to six percent positive).
31 percent of VTV’s coverage of its owner’s Jumhoree Party (JP) was positive – only two percent was negative. The report noted that the space afforded the JP was “significantly high”.
Newspaper Haveeru is the largest national daily with a print run of 3000 copies. It was first published by Mohamed Zahir Hussain, who according to Transparency “has close ties with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom”.
Haveeru’s coverage of the government during the reporting period leaned towards negative (12 percent negative, 7 percent positive), and coverage of the MDP was almost twice as negative as positive (21 percent to 10 percent). Coverage of parliament was more negative (27 percent) than positive (nine percent).
Coverage of the DRP was 29 percent negative and only one percent positive. 46 percent of its coverage of Thasmeen’s faction was negative (to six percent positive), while its coverage of Gayoom’s faction was more balanced (32 percent negative, 13 percent positive). Coverage of the People’s Alliance (PA), founded by Gayoom’s half brother Abdulla Yameen, was 60 percent negative.
Twelve percent of Haveeru’s coverage of police was negative, compared to two percent positive.
Miadhu was founded by Ahmed Abdullah, the Minister of Energy, Environment and Water under the former government.
“Miadhu boasts a record of having no complaints about their publications so far, according to the Editor Abdul Latheef,” the report noted. Miadhu claimed to be circulating 3000 copies.
Miadhu’s coverage of the government was 17 percent positive and 19 percent negative, however its coverage of President Nasheed was weighted towards the positive (18 percent positive to 3 percent negative).
The newspaper’s coverage of the DRP was more significantly negative (12 percent) than positive (two percent).
Miadhu’s coverage of police, council, court and the elections commission was neutral.
Minivan News was analysed by Transparency alongside with print media, despite it being an online publication. Articles were printed and content physically measured in centimetres.
Initially established by the MDP in 2005 “due to the futility of attempting to cover [then] opposition news in the conservative media outlets that existed then”, Minivan News and the now defunct print publication ‘Minivan Daily’ met with strong interference from the former government, with several of its foreign reporters being deported.
“Many staff of Minivan were subjected to police intimidation, threats and harassment,” Transparency’s report noted, while the newspaper’s office in Colombo was raided by Sri Lankan police after it was falsely reported to be “a hub for dealing in arms.”
Following the change of power in 2008 the Minivan Daily newspaper was disbanded together with all funding from politically-affiliated sources. The Minivan News website was passed to a succession of foreign editors who attempted to establish it as a credible and objective source of news of the Maldives, and it has since relied on income generated through banner advertising.
Minivan’s coverage of the government during the reporting period was more significantly negative (19 percent) than positive (four percent). Coverage of President Mohamed Nasheed was generally balanced at 9 percent negative and 10 percent positive.
Minivan’s coverage of key institutions was overwhelmingly neutral, including the President’s office (100 percent neutral), High Court (100 percent), Supreme Court (100 percent), Council (100 percent), Local Government Authority (100 percent), Anti-Corruption Commission (100 percent) and parliament (98 percent). The exceptions were the Judicial Services Commission, of which coverage was 19 percent negative and 0 percent positive, and the Civil Court (44 percent of coverage was negative).
Coverage of the DRP inclined towards negative (34 percent) over positive (6 percent). Coverage of Thasmeen’s faction during the reporting period was 76 percent negative, while coverage of Gayoom’s faction was 23 percent negative. Coverage of the PA was 62 percent negative.
Minivan’s coverage of the MDP was slightly more negative that it was positive (8 percent to 6 percent respectively).
Transparency noted that Minivan’s coverage of the Adhaalath Party was 100 percent positive.
Transparency Maldives’ Project Director, Aiman Rasheed, acknowledged that the results were impacted by the key stories and news agenda of the short reporting period, “but even though two weeks is the minimum reporting period possible, you can already see the patterns emerge.”
Transparency’s Director Ilham Mohamed said media’s coverage in the week of the local council elections was also analysed, but said the results would be shared individually with media outlets as one week was too short a reporting period for a statistically-sound analysis. Transparency was considering expanding the project to include a longer monitoring period, she said.
Key recommendations in the report for media outlets included ensuring that journalists employed are provided with professional training and apprenticeships, and curbing the influence of owners and financial interests.
“Editorial policies of all media outlets should respect the principles of fair and balanced coverage and provide all parties with equal opportunities to present their view,” Transparency stated. “This is especially so during election period where the election laws specifically call for fair coverage to all candidates.”
Several political parties had announced boycotts of various media outlets on the assumption that coverage was politically influenced, the report stated, calling for an end to such boycotts.
“Political parties should recognise and respect the independence of journlists and media to ensure equal access to interiews, press conferences, party functions and access to speakers at panel discussions.”
The report also called for groups such as the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) and South Asian Federation for Media Associations (SAFMA) “to play a stronger role in advocating for media freedoms.”
Download the full report (English)