The Civil Court has today ruled in favour of private broadcaster Raajje TV in its lawsuit against the President’s Office for barring the opposition-aligned television station from President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s press conferences and functions.
“[The court] orders the President’s Office not to discriminate against Raajje TV in providing opportunity to cover functions, events and press conferences,” reads the judgment (Dhivehi).
Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain noted that the President’s Office’s decision to not cooperate with Raajje TV was proven at court by its own admission.
Summoned by parliament’s Government Oversight Committee last week following a complaint filed by Raajje TV, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad claimed that Raajje TV was not invited to press conferences because the station did not fit criteria or standards of reporting set out by the President’s Office.
According to Masood, the policy of the President’s Office was to invite “responsible and experienced” media outlets, which include private broadcasters DhiTV and VTV, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), newspapers Haveeru and Miadhu, as well as internet publications Sun Online and Minivan News.
Meanwhile, followings its own inquiry into the matter, the Maldives Media Council (MMC) asked the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office to press charges against the President’s Office over what it found to be discriminatory treatment.
The non-cooperation by the President’s Office with Raajjee TV have also been met with condemnation from both international and local NGOs, including the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA).
At the Civil Court trial, the President’s Office, represented by the attorney general, alleged that Raajje TV had attempted to capture video footage of the premises, disrupting internal security at the office.
However, the judge dismissed the claim on the grounds that the President’s Office had the right to file a complaint at the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) over the alleged violation of broadcasting rules.
As the President’s Office was an institution that “served the people,” the judge ruled that the it should also comply with the Maldivian constitution, which guarantees equal treatment and administrative fairness.
Press freedom and freedom of expression were also protected as fundamental rights in the constitution, the judge noted.
Speaking to Minivan News, Chairman of Raajje TV Akram Kamaaluddeen said today’s verdict was a huge success for Raajje TV well as for the Maldivian media.
“Today, the court has guaranteed that no one can meddle with the rights vested in the constitution and that no one can discriminate the media,” he said.
Akram added that he expected Raajje TV to be invited to future press conferences and events at the President’s Office.
Despite the Civil Court judgment, Masood Imad denied that the government failed to cooperate with Raajje TV.
“We talk to them and provide them with answers to their queries. In future too, we will maintain our position of cooperation,” he told Minivan News.
Masood added that he has been in touch with officials at Raajje TV today and invited them for a meeting at the President’s Office tomorrow (April 15) to “talk out” any differences.
Akram said that he had not been aware of any communication with the President’s Office since the court ruling at time of press.
The Civil Court previously ruled that a similar decision taken by the Maldives Police Service to not cooperate with Raajje TV station was unconstitutional. The Civil Court Judge, issuing the ruling against the Police at the time, said that he believed such a decision was “extremely dangerous and significantly serious” and could result in “chaos and infringement of social harmony.”