A bill on establishing a Maldives Broadcasting Corporation proposed by Kulhudufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed was sent to a seven-member ad hoc committee for further review with unanimous consent today.
Presenting the bill, Nasheed, former information minister, said the purpose of the bill was to bring Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM) under one parent company and establish a legal framework for a free and independent state media.
â€œ[The objective is] to establish a public service broadcaster that originates from the people, serves the people, is controlled by the people, run with the peopleâ€™s money, and ultimately is accountable to the people,â€ he said.
He added the legislation will ensure that coverage is fair and balanced and free from undue influence from the government, political parties or entrepreneurs.
It specifies how the company will be formed, its objectives, its organisational structure, essential characteristics as a public service broadcaster, public aims, the role of the directorâ€™s board, how members should be appointed and the role of parliament.
Nasheed said he first submitted the bill under the former government but parliament at the time did not manage to pass it.
â€œIâ€™ve drafted this bill in compliance with the standards set by an international organisation that helps establish and develop public service broadcasting in the Asia Pacific region,â€ he said. â€œIt is commonly known as AIBD.â€
He added the legislation incorporated standards set by international press freedom organisation Article 19.
Most MPs commended and praised Nasheed for the well-drafted legislation.
Opposition MPs and some independents accused the government of using state media to â€œspread propagandaâ€ and stressed the importance of ensuring editorial independence.
â€œWhile such an important bill is being debated on the Maldives broadcasting channels that reach the largest number of people, it is regrettable that Television Maldives cut off Majlis live after the questions to the minister,â€ said Thohdhoo MP Ali Waheed of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).
He added that it underlined the importance of passing the legislation as soon as possible.
MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) objected to parliament appointing the board of directrâ€™s and making them directly answerable to parliament.
Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim said giving authority over the corporation to parliament would not ensure that it was free of political influence.
Dhidhoo MP Ahmed Sameer said politicians were not on the board of the public broadcasting service of the United States.
Sameer questioned the rationale behind allowing parliament to appoint members to the board of directors. â€œWhy is it that STELCOâ€™s board is not appointed by [parliament]? Or STOâ€™s board?â€ he said.
Inguraidhoo MP Hamdhoon Hameed of the DRP pointed out that the arts and culture policy of the MDP manifesto stated that a board approved by parliament should oversee state media.
Thulhaadhoo MP Nazim Rashad, an independent, proposed allowing the government to nominate members for the board to be approved by parliament.
Some opposition MPs said people no longer watched TVM because it was biased in favour of the ruling party.
Mulaku MP Abdullah Yamin of the Peopleâ€™s Alliance said Rf200,000 (US$16,000) a month was being spent from â€œthe peopleâ€™s moneyâ€ for a show called â€œHope and Realityâ€ to sell the governmentâ€™s policies.
Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam said TVM recently recorded interviews with her, DRP MP Ahmed Nihan and MDP MP Mohamed Mustafa and omitted hers in favour of balance, but TVM’s “Raaje Miadhu” (Maldives Today) programme had just one DRP member flanked by two or three MDP members every night.
Gemanafushi MP Ilham Ahmed said MPs of the DRP-PA coalition met with TVM officials and employees the night before and they expressed support for the bill.
Ilham said he expected them to oppose the legislation. â€œBut what we saw was completely different. They said we want, want, want to work independently.â€
Henveiru South MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor of the MDP said the bill was submitted â€œprematurelyâ€ as there should be legislation to establish laws and guidelines for broadcasting.
Vaikaradhoo MP Ali Arif, an independent, proposed an amendment to section nine(c), which states that providing a platform for a plurality of views was among the public aims of the company.
Arif proposed adding the phrase â€œpolitical viewsâ€ to the clause.
Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib proposed amendments to include programmes that disseminated Islam and prohibit those that were un-Islamic.
He proposed abolishing section nine(c) as it could lead to pluralism and different opinions in the country.
Eydhafushi MP Ahmed â€œRedwaveâ€ Saleem seconded the amendments.
Responding to MPs concerns after the debate, Nasheed said allowing parliament to appoint members would prevent one political party from dictating to or dominating the board as parliamentary decisions were made following public debate and negotiation.