“A 180 Degree Turn”: The Head Of TVM On The Channel’s 30 Years

State broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) – currently the Maldives’ only television channel – celebrated its 30-year anniversary last week.

But 2008 will see drastic changes. It is the first year in which the channel faces competition from private broadcasters, as well as the challenge of covering the country’s first ever multi-party presidential elections.

Aiman Rasheed asked the channel’s CEO Ali Khalid for his thoughts on changes in progress, the challenges of rising media competition, and the ongoing political pressure exerted on TVM.


TVM was founded on 29 March 1978, and has dominated the Maldivian airwaves for three decades. Its signal originally covered a 40-kilometer radius, but now reaches all 20 atolls, plus over 100 countries via satellite.

Meanwhile an operation that started with just eight staff has now expanded to 240, and broadcasting time has increased from 90 minutes to 18 hours and 30 minutes per day.

And in an effort to expand coverage of news from the 200 inhabited islands scattered over 20 atolls, TVM has established 20 local bureaus to gather and cover local stories.

Winds Of Change

Khalid tells me the Ministry of Information – of which TVM is a department – has initiated changes to its structure and functioning to ensure quality programs are delivered to the Maldivian public.

“Recently, we’ve had three foreign consultants [led by US consultant Terry Anzur] working with our staff, and we’ve had major changes to the way we work.”

TVM now has dedicated anchors for the morning, afternoon and evening shows, and has brought “a more balanced approach into the newsroom.”

“TVM has taken a 180 degree turn,” in terms of political openness and structure, says Khalid. “But we need to go further.”

Building Trust

Following the custodial death of Evan Naseem in 2003, riots broke out in Maldives. Furious Maldivians poured onto the streets to express their anger and frustration with the government.

TVM became a focal point for the growing discussion on media freedom, as activists, reformists, politicians and the public accused the channel of spreading government-biased news rather than the impartial truth.

“There is a lot of mistrust and pressure on TVM, and a couple of times crowds have thrown stones,” recalls Khalid. “Maybe that [stone throwing] was with reason.”

Khalid adds that “there are many things we [TVM] did right, and much [more] we could do right.”

Political Pressure

With TVM operating as a wing of the Ministry of Information, many believe it cannot be independent.

“We have opened ourselves more, and have built a certain level of trust [with] the political parties,” Khalid claims.

He argues the channel is neutral in terms of giving airtime and coverage to political parties, but agreed it cannot throw off its “shackles” until it becomes an independent entity.

The broadcasting bill, according to Khalid, would ensure TVM is “seeded as an institution much like the Human Rights Commission and Civil Service Commission,” run by a board as agreed in parliament.

An MP will be on the board, which will “dictate policies […] and ensure impartiality,” added Khalid.

“I look forward to passage of the broadcasting bill in parliament,” Khalid said, “and then there will be no dictating of anything by anybody.”

VIP Crew

The largest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have often complained of not receiving TVM airtime, as have other opposition groups.

With MDP’s presidential primaries slated for 25 April, local media outlets DhiFM and Jazeera are hosting debates between the three presidential contenders.

As part of increased impartiality, Khalid told Minivan News “TVM in principle agrees to airing [the debates],” provided that “we [concerned parties] can agree on a guideline and standards.” At the time of publication, the first debate had been aired nationally.

Yet suspicions over TVM’s bias are increased by the rumoured “VIP crew” within TVM, whose sole purpose is covering the president’s activities.

But Khalid says: “It is not completely like that. This crew does other jobs too.”

“It’s just that these people are acquainted with the right people,” he contends. “We cannot send any person to the President’s Office, Parliament and the cabinet.”

However, Khalid concedes “we [do] cover Gayoom’s activities as head of state.”


TVM’s reputation took a further bashing when three employees were sacked from their jobs in December 2006, with charges of “violating office ethics, disrupting staff meetings and spreading false rumours”.

The three producers, Ibrahim Muaz, Ilham Mohamed and Ahmed Zahir, have filed cases of unfair dismissal, with Muaz and Ilham’s cases now decided in their favour.

Though the trio was dismissed on the above mentioned charges, two employees from TVM, who wished to remain anonymous, told Minivan News they were dismissed because of being involved in a website called “Kakkakako.”

This site featured leaks from the channel, and criticised TVM as government biased.

“It would be wrong to accuse them [the three producers] of that [Kakkakako website] now,” says Khalid. But he adds confusingly: “We have considerable reason to believe it was them, though not enough to prove it.”

The court ordered TVM to compensate both Muaz and Ilham and reinstate Muaz’s job. However, when the state failed to pay, the producers filed another case which led to the channel giving in and compensating the producers.

“90% of the issue has been settled,” Khalid says – but “we have asked the Attorney General to appeal the court ruling.”

Though the producers have been compensated, they would have to pay back the state if the High Court overturns the previous ruling.


Whilst such issues from the past rumble on, new regulation has allowed private companies to break the state monopoly over the media, bringing new pressures on TVM from a different direction.

Seven FM radio stations have been licensed and six have started broadcasting. Another three parties have been licensed for telecasting, with Dhi TV and Villa Television (VTV) expected to inaugurate in mid 2008.

Khalid claimed the “competition is within ourselves and not them.” But he admits: “We have to break our bureaucracy, change the way we report, operate and gather information, otherwise we will be left behind.”

Even though media has been privatised, “there will be a vacuum that private company would not fill, because at the end of the day they want to make money.”

Key people from high posts within TVM have now left for companies such as DhiFM. But Khalid says that though “we’ve lost key positions such as head of news department, we have staff who can eventually fill these positions.”

And he adds: “If you believe that you are in a position beyond competition, then your game is over. Three years back, we had no competition, we were sleeping and we had the choice of saying, whatever we do, take it or leave it.”


Khalid tells me that “there is no staff [member], be it a cameraman, journalist or even receptionists and cleaners, who have not received some sort of training in the past two years.”

Saying that TVM staff are much more “receptive to change,” Khalid said that his focus would be to “train staff to become leaders.”

“Because in a competition,” he adds, “whoever makes leaders fastest are the winners in the business.”