Raaje TV expects to resume satellite broadcasts to the Maldives’ outer islands by mid-July after alleging the government was behind delays in issuing a temporary permit needed to provide its services to a national audience.
The private media group’s chairman Akram Kamaaluddin earlier this week claimed that political influence was behind a delay in obtaining a satellite uplink permit. Without such a permit, Raaje TV has claimed its signal is limited to an estimated 20 percent of homes in the country.
The broadcaster said that although it had now been given a temporary license to establish its own satellite uplink – it remained concerned about the present government’s overall commitment to media freedom.
A President’s Office spokesperson responded today that the government had no involvement in the reported delay in issuing the license. The spokesperson also questioned the validity of the broadcaster’s accusations considering a temporary permit had now been approved by the independent Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM).
The comments were made as media NGO, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), called for greater clarity by Maldivian broadcast authorities such as the CAM over the regulations it employed for supplying licenses to national media organisations.
“As this statement is issued, the MJA informs us that Raajje TV has been granted temporary uplink permission for six months,” said the IFJ Asia-Pacific in a statement released yesterday.
“We welcome this development, even if it is provisional, and call for a clear statement on the norms that will govern the use of the broadcast spectrum, in a manner that will provide ample room for multiple voices and opinions.”
Despite the temporary resolution of the satellite link issue that had affected Raaje TV’s services this week, the IFJ said it had was concerned that “guidelines for permitting plural sources of news and opinions for the people” may have been breached in the Maldives.
“We urge the authorities in the Maldives to make the grant of uplinking permissions the norm, subject only to a list, preferably small and clearly defined, of ineligible entities. Rather than control information flows, the priority should be to ensure that multiple sources of news are available to the people of the republic in this time of political transition,” the NGO stated
“A review of broadcast policy cannot be the basis for denial of such permission, since such a review in today’s world can only move towards allowing greater diversity and competition on the air-waves and not towards restricting access”.
In outlining the current status of broadcast media in the country, the IFJ – which represents 600,000 journalists in 131 countries – claimed that Raajje TV was known for providing alternative news and opinions in the country compared to other private broadcasters .
However, the NGO claimed Raaje TV’s ability to fulfil this mandate had been restricted after it failed to receive a satellite uplink permit needed to ensure its services were available to a majority of islands in the country’s outer atolls.
“Of the four TV broadcasters operating in the Maldives, one is controlled by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), an autonomous body established under law. Though mandated to function independently, the MNBC is believed by opposition parties and independent journalists, to be highly biased towards the government that came to power on February 7, after a police revolt toppled the elected president,” the NGO added. “Of the private channels, two are owned by businessmen with known links to the current regime, according to sources in the Maldives.”
Speaking to Minivan News today, Raaje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin said he expected the government would continue to try and create “hurdles” in an attempt to restrict Raaje TV’s broadcasts even after the group obtained a temporary license this week.
Akram alleged that the channel had already been forced to establish its own independent satellite uplink as the government had been influencing major national telecom operators into not providing technical assistance or services to the broadcaster.
“They have given us this temporary license, but there is no guarantee that they won’t try to interfere with our services in other ways,” he claimed. Akram added that the establishment of Raaje TV’s independent satellite uplink was designed to try and ensure more stability for its services in the future.
Raaje TV’s management have alleged that the CAM had guaranteed that a license would be awarded to the broadcaster on Sunday (July 1) in relation to an application sent two weeks previous.
Akram maintained that the Ministry of Transport and Communication had acted outside of its jurisdiction and influenced the CAM into not issuing a license on the grounds that its existing policy was under review and an uplink could not therefore be provided until this was complete.
Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News earlier in the week that the allegations of his ministry acting in a politically motivated manner against the broadcaster 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 date for when it would be made available.
“I spoke with Raaje TV [on July 2] and told them they would be given the license as soon as possible” he said at the time. “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 this week, delaying response to the matter.
When contacted today about the concerns raised by the IFJ, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that he welcomed the license being awarded to Raaje TV and stressed the government had no involvement in the issue.
“I am glad that the broadcaster got what they were after,” he said.
With the permit having been awarded, Masood questioned the validity of Raaje TV’s bias allegations.
In addressing these allegations, Masood added that the government had “no involvement” concerning the work of the CAM, which he said was established to operate as an independent body free of government control.
“I don’t know the composition of the CAM is, it is appointed by the parliament,” he said.
Masood added that he was not able to speculate on the possible political affiliations of individuals within an organisation like the CAM.