The chairman of private broadcaster Raaje TV has alleged that government interference is to blame for the channel being denied a satellite uplink permit to broadcast across the country’s atolls.
Akram Kamaaluddin today claimed that the Ministry of Transport and Communication had been interfering in the permit matter, resulting in the channel yesterday being unable to broadcast programming via satellite. He claimed the decision was taken despite earlier assurances from the Communication Authority of the Maldives (CAM) that a license would be issued.
The Communications Ministry responded to the claims saying it would be providing Raaje TV with the required permit “as soon as possible”, adding that the private broadcaster was treated no differently to other channels in the country.
However, Akram said that after applying for an uplink permit two weeks ago, Raaje TV still found itself yesterday only able to broadcast programming through the country’s limited cable network – making the channel unavailable to an estimated 80 percent of the national television audience.
“We had previously been supplied an uplink through [telco] Wataniya, however there were some problems with this service. We therefore decided to set up an uplink on our own. This requires permission from the CAM,” he said.
Despite assurances that the permit would be granted, Akram claimed that the CAM responded it would have to issue a temporary license to the broadcaster for six months.
“However, after I called CAM yesterday afternoon, I was informed they were unable to do this as the [Communications] Minister said they were in the process of introducing a new policy,” he said.
Having not received any notice about the new regulations being imposed. Akram alleged that Raaje TV was the only channel to have been unable to acquire the permit, a decision he said was politically motivated due to the channel’s news coverage since February’s controversial transfer of power.
Raaje TV’s allegations have been backed by the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which contends that the CAM had withheld the satellite uplink license due to the broadcaster having been critical of the current government.
“The satellite uplink license would allow Raajje TV to broadcast news and programming across the Maldives, and to reach audiences in the outer atolls where independent media is scarce and state owned media dominate the airwaves,” the MDP claimed in a statement today. “The denial of the license is a politically motivated attempt to suppress alternative views in the Maldives. The MDP calls on all relevant authorities to investigate to look into this matter immediately and with the utmost urgency.”
Responding to the allegations, Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News today that the allegations of the ministry acting in a politically motivated manner were a result of Akram “making his own judgement” about the matter.
He therefore maintained that Raaje TV would be given the uplink permit, though was unable to set a time-line for when it would be made available.
“I spoke with Raaje TV yesterday and told them they would be given the license as soon as possible” he said. “I don’t have a time limit for when this will be.”
Shamheed stressed that the process did take time and that the CAM’s Chief Executive, Ilyas Ahmed, had been away until the last few days, delaying response to the matter.
“I think this is an overreaction on Raaje TV’s part,” he claimed.
While uncertain as to whether there was truth in the claims of political motivation preventing Raaje TV from acquiring the uplink permit, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) nonetheless today raised concerns over the failure for a license to be issued.
MJA president ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir said that the association believed that no government should not interfere or block any specific political views from the nation’s airwaves.
Zahir added that when dealing with the issue of permits, once a media outlet was approved a license by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the government should not seek to interfere in issues relating to the CAM.
“I don’t have all the information right now, but Raaje TV has not given an uplink service,” he said. “Government should not intervene in these matters, that is the MJA’s view,” he said.
Back in May, Raaje TV alleged its reporters had faced physical attacks and intimidation by security forces since the transfer of power, while claiming ministers of the current administration had refused to engage with the station.
However, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) said at the time that there were no “challenges to freedom of the press” in the present political environment.
During April, the offices of private broadcaster Villa Television (VTV) were attacked during confrontations between security forces and alleged anti-government protesters in Male’ on March 19.
VTV was briefly brought off air following the incident – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”. Local media bodies also criticised anti-government protesters for allegedly threatening journalists and media personnel covering the clashes.
A month before this incident, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef expressed doubt over whether a free media can flourish in the Maldives at the present time.
“We see that although we talk of democracy and freedom of media and expression, I don’t think society is ready to digest a free media,” said Nazeef.