The Ministry of Health and Gender has issued a press statement criticising the media for its standards and ethics when reporting on abuse cases, especially those involving children.
Police and the ministry last week confirmed they were investigating a “very serious” case of child abuse, in which which four children were taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) by ministry workers to undergo medical examination.
Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali said at the time that all details of the case were being withheld for the protection of the children.
“We have the children’s best interest in mind, and that means we cannot give out any information that might put them in danger,” she said.
The ministry’s statement today claimed that the media had recently written stories misinforming the public “particularly relating to abuse cases”, and criticised the publication of stories “before the ministry releases information [about them]”.
“The media should keep to its professional standards and work to the ethics of journalism, respecting privacy,” the ministry said, referring to article 12 of the the Children’s Law, under which children’s names, ages or addresses should not be made public in the instance of abuse.
President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir claimed that “the media is respectful of these things. It is not appropriate to reveal this information”, but acknowledged that in the past there were instances in which the victim’s father’s or family name has been released to the public, making it easy for the victim to be identified.
“There needs to be a fine balance when dealing with these issues,” Hiriga said, adding that he still believed the public had a right to know about such cases.
He echoed Mohamed Shihaab of Child Abuse Watch Maldives, who last week said that while he understood the authorities’ fear that evidence would be corrupted, or that the families of the abused children would suffer if their identities became known, “the incident needs to be reported. It’s important that the community knows that something like this is happening,” he said.
Ahmed Rilwan, media officer for the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), said the “general viewpoint of the Commission is that there is nothing wrong [with the media reporting these cases].”
“So long as it is done responsibly, the reporting itself is not a problem,” he said.
He added that these cases should be reported without revealing identifying information that could “revictimise the victims”, and agreed that that the media has previously made more information public than it should.
Minivan News’ reporting of the ministry’s statement highlighted some of the difficulties faced by the media in obtaining accurate and timely information from ministries and organisations.
Media Coordinator for the Ministry of Health and Family, Yasir Salih, refused to comment on the ministry’s press statement, saying he is “not supposed to talk on behalf of the Ministry.” He added that he “directs people to relevant departments and officials” but is not supposed to give information.
According to Yasir, “sometimes our officials are busy and unable to give interviews and comments.”
Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali did not respond to requests for comment at of time of publication.
Senior Social Service Officer at the Department of Gender, Fathimath Runa, said she would not be able to speak on the issue until she was “better informed on the issue”, but had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.
President of Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said he was not the appropriate person to talk to concerning the question on whether or not the media should report child abuse cases.
Hiriga said he believed the ministries and government institutions should implement “proper mechanisms to regulate information” which is released to the media, in a bid to prevent confusion and misinformation being leaked from other sources.
“Various ministries are trying to influence the media,” he suggested. “They have no right to intervene.”