The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)‘s 2011 ‘Press Freedom in Peril‘ for South Asia has claimed there are “several matters of detail on which discord between journalists and the government is rife” in the Maldives.
The report, produced on behalf of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) of which the Maldives National Journalists’ Association (MJA) is a member, states that “going beyond the perception-based indexes of press freedom that have put Maldives among the most rapidly improving countries, there are certain difficulties that journalists in the nation continue to face, even if these are not reflected in the broad numerical indexes, which are admittedly of limited value.”
The reports claims that journalists covering opposition demonstrations in October 2010 were been “beaten with batons, some of them shackled and a number briefly detained,” with police claiming that this occurred because “some of the journalists covering the demonstration had started engaging them in a confrontational spirit.”
The report also noted the opposition party had blamed the alleged assaults on journalists on Parliamentary Group Leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), “who had, in the weeks preceding the event, made a number of public statements that suggested a deep antipathy towards the media.”
Manik referred to private TV channels in the Maldives as the fruit of ‘ill-gotten’ wealth and vowed to teach them a lesson,” the report claimed.
Subsequent findings from the Maldives Media Council (MMC) had “sought to be all things to all people, calling on journalists to follow a certain code of practice when covering events such as opposition led demonstrations, while at the same time, reprimanding the police for not giving adequate space for the media in their effort to record the protests.”
“Journalists needed to adhere to a certain standard of discipline, and the police needed to provide sufficient leeway for honest journalistic effort,” the report said, citing the MMC.
Attempts to devise a code of ethics and self-regulation for the country’s journalists by the MJA had been derailed by the state-owned media, the report claimed, “which was indifferent to this initiative, [and] which has rendered the code inoperative.”
The report noted a protest in October where four journalists from the private radio station DhiFM “were compelled to undertake a protest against their own employer when it turned out that the management had revealed the identity of a source used for a report on a tourist resort.”
“Irked by the content of the report, the resort management sacked the employee. The journalists who protested against their management’s unethical decision to reveal the identity of a news source, were in turn fired,” the report noted.
The report also highlighted the arrest of two Haveeru journalists in February 2011 “for interrogation” over leaked pornographic videos obtained from a Facebook blackmailing ring, which reportedly included material involved known public figures, and police efforts to obtain a warrant to search the newspaper’s offices, which was not executed.
A consistent concern throughout the year was the government’s decision to remove all government advertising from the media and publish an official gazette, depriving the industry of income, the report noted.
“By limiting the visibility of government advertisements, it has led to fears of bid-rigging and corruption in the award of official contracts. It has also caused considerable financial distress to the independent media,” the report stated.
The Miadhu newspaper had been compelled to move offices as a result of the decision, it claimed.
Read the full report: Free Speech in Peril: Press Freedom in South Asia 2010-11