The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has issued a press statement expressing alarm at “increasing hostile actions against independent media in the Maldives.”
Verbal attacks and vandalism by unknown persons against private broadcaster VTV had contributed to “a climate of intolerance” against the broadcaster, the IFJ said, “according to information received from IFJ affiliate, the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA).”
The IFJ statement also noted that “the MJA has drawn attention to a threat of action held out against VTV by ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, leader of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group, following what the MDP leader characterised as ‘repeated’ broadcasts of news stories critical of his party.”
The IFJ further repeated claims by the MJA that Head of the Male’ Municipality Adam Manik had “reportedly attacked” a cameraman belonging to private broadcaster DhiTV, and confiscated his camera.
Manik admitted taking the camera but denied attacking the cameraman, following the incident last week, and returned the item in the presence of police.
“Cameramen are not allowed to film on government property without authorisation,” he said, adding that “the media is too occupied with making the news instead of reporting it.”
IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the international organisation “supports the MJA’s effort to dissuade the officials responsible for these incidents, and indeed all individuals, from persisting with such hostile actions against journalists and media organisations.”
“The physical and verbal attacks on media organisations that have been recurring in the Maldives could create an environment that would be adverse to press freedom in the country,” she added.
Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed “the facts have been overblown and the IFJ misled.”
“The government no longer sponsors private media, and while some public officials may show hostility to the media, there is a broader picture – they are immediately accountable.”
Zuhair further alleged that the majority of the members of the MJA “are apologists and sympathisers of the former regime. I don’t think a single journalist involved in the reform process is in the MJA.”
He also claimed that MDP MP Reeko Moosa’s claims regarding the corruption of media “voiced the allegations of many in his party” that private media was being subverted to serve the political interests of its owners.
“I don’t believe people should invest in media for political purposes,” he said. “You don’t go fishing for political purposes – you go fishing for fish.”
The MJA has meanwhile also called for the Department of Information to retract a decision to deduct five points from DhiFM’s broadcasting license, after the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) ruled that a police order for the station to cease covering a riot outside the presidential residence on January 28 violated the police act.
Police claimed that the order was given because the DhiFM coverage was broadcast in such a manner that it was a potential threat to national security, however police failed to convince the commission.
Following the incident, the government’s Department of Information docked five points from DhiFM’s broadcasting license for eight contract violations, with the content review committee claiming that DhiFM’s coverage breached aspects of the code including failing to distinguish between fact and opinion, produce unbiased and balance coverage of controversial/political events, and promoting criminal activities as “something good or acceptable.”
Then-Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, under whose jurisdiction the Department of Information fells, agreed that “in principle this is not something the executive should be doing. But because there is an existing broadcasting contract [under the former administration’s licensing system] we have to fulfil our duty.
He told Minivan News at the time that the five point deduction out of a possible 100 amounted “to a symbolic gesture”.
The MJA meanwhile called on the government to withdraw the decision after viewing the report published by the Police Integrity Commission, and dissolve the Content Committee of the Department of Information.