The Foreign Ministry of the Maldives has invited a delegation from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to the Maldives “to judge [for themselves] whether the local media is able to meet the needs of the public it serves, and of freedom of expression in the Maldives.”
The invitation was given after the IFJ issued a statement supporting the transfer of assets of the Maldives National Broadcast Corporation (MNBC) to parliament’s Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).
The MNBC is a 100 percent government-owned corporation that controls the assets of the former State Broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).
In April 2010 the then-opposition majority parliament triggered a tug-of-war for control of the state broadcaster after it created MBC, appointed a board, and then ordered MNBC transfer the assets to the new body. Following a refusal to do so by the President’s Office, a Civil Court ruling last week ordered the transfer take place within 20 days. The government has said it intends to appeal.
“The IFJ has consistently argued the case for public service journalism which is independent of state control and insulated from a dependence on advertising revenue which is known to often impair editorial independence,” said IFJ’s Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.
“The Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA), an IFJ affiliate, has placed on record its belief that the empowerment of the autonomous corporation [MBC], which has been designated as a public service broadcaster under Maldives’ national law, is key to raising awareness during a challenging time of transition for the Indian Ocean republic.”
The Foreign Ministry claimed that “Unfortunately the current MBC Board was appointed at a time when the opposition majority of the People’s Majlis was being used for obvious political reasons.”
“However, the government looks forward to the day when the MBC can function as an independent, impartial and objective State broadcaster, backed by an independent and well-respected Board.”
The Maldivian media – including MNBC – is frequently accused of overt political bias favouring one or other of the major political parties, a legacy of decades of autocratic governance and a state-controlled media establishment.
Several opposition-allied MPs and businessmen remain key owners of much of the country’s private media, and visiting journalism trainers have voiced concerns from young Maldivian journalists that senior editorial management obstruct them from reporting ethically.
Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Tiare Rath, observed in September 2010 following a series of journalism workshops that “one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers.”
“Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” Rath said.
“This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”
Inviting the IFJ to the Maldives, the Foreign Ministry said it requested that the IFJ “only uphold the very principles they espouse when they report on the situation on the ground. In this regard, perhaps it would be useful for the IFJ to send a delegation to Male’.”
Minivan News is currently seeking a response from the IFJ to the Foreign Ministry’s invitation.