A parliament decision to cut a live feed to private radio station DhiFM and summon some of its journalists before its general affairs committee tomorrow over allegations of contempt during a live broadcast has been roundly condemned by the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA).
”We believe that the media has the authority to report the dialogue of MPs, broadcast what is going on inside the parliament as well as the authority to criticise,” read a press release by the MJA. ”It is a right guaranteed by the constitution and we call on the parliament not to violate that right.”
The MJA notes that the parliament’s action to last week cut the feed – reportedly in response to “disrespect” exhibited to some MPs by DhiFM presenters – was both unwarranted and disproportionate, adding that parliament should have recourse to other means than unilaterally terminating the live coverage of parliament sittings.
”This association does not believe that a responsible institution of the state would have to stop sending live feed to a media outlet in order to complain about its reporting,” reads the MJA statement. ”It is also questionable whether the live feed was stopped after investigating the matter.”
The press association warned that such actions could undermine press freedom by silencing the media.
However, the MJA also called on local media to be responsible in their duties as well as appealing for MPs to ensure the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution are practiced to their full extent.
Parliament Secretary-General Ahmed Mohamed is currently abroad and was unavailable for comment.
CEO of DhiFM, Masoodh Hilmy confirmed that the parliamentary committee sent two letters to the radio station requesting a recording of its ”Breakfast Club” programme last week and summoning the two DhiFM journalists who presented the programme in front of a committee tomorrow.
”We have not yet decided whether we will send the two journalists, because currently we are seeking legal advice to determine whether legally we are obliged to attend parliament if requested,” said Masood. ”We will abide by all laws, and we do not believe that we violated the privileges of MPs.”
Masood characterised the action taken by the parliament as a challenge to the freedom of press.
”It is a step backwards in terms of democracy, I think its the first time in history the parliament has summoned journalists,” he said, adding that the incident was “regrettable”.
Masood added that while DhiFM has not officially been informed that the live feed had been disconnected, “our technical department says that we haven’t been receiving signals from the parliament.”
The MJA’s criticism comes just a month after it spoke out along with other media figures like the editor of Haveeru to criticise police in requesting to speak with some of the paper’s journalists concerning the identity of sources on which it based a report.
The story focused on an alleged blackmail ring that reportedly obtained pornographic images of some high-profile national figures through the internet, which has been the basis of an ongoing police investigation. Haveeru said at the time that its staff declined to reveal the identities of its sources.