Looming tug-of-war between parliament and executive over state broadcaster

The executive today signaled reluctance to hand control of state media over to parliament, potentially sparking a political tug-of-war over Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).

The state media outlets are currently operated by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), a 100 percent government owned company established by executive decree.

However in April Parliament approved a law to establish a company called the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to operate the state media, with nine board members appointed and answerable to the parliament.

Today the parliament appointed nine members for the MBC board. Chairman of MNBC Mohamed “Madulu” Waheed and Managing Director Ibrahim Khaleel also proposed their names, but were dropped from the shortlist by parliament.

Out of the 29 names presented, MPs approved 18 names to be shortlisted and nine of the persons were appointed as the MBC board members.

“MNBC is a company established under a resolution by the president and all its assets and land also belong to the company under a contract,” said the President’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef today at a press conference.

”Although the MBC has been established, the MNBC will continue operating the state broadcasters. I would like to note that TVM and VOM are both channels registered under MNBC and are assets of that company.”

President Mohamed Nasheed ratified the bill establishing the MBC in April, which was originally passed by Parliament on 6 April 2010.

The government said then that it wanted the corporation to be free from political and commercial influence, and to televise public service announcements and matters of the state (such as President Nasheed’s speeches) at no cost to the government.

However today Afeef said that if the MNBC did not wish to hand the assets to MBC, there was no way they could be transferred if the MNBC did not wish to.

“If the MBC was established for the government to operate, the government would have the power to appoint people for its board,” Afeef said. “The government did not establish MBC, it was the parliament.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair in April that the formation of a new public broadcaster “will be best for the general public”, and that MNBC’s assets would be transferred to the new corporation.

DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom suggested at the time that President Mohamed Nasheed should “be very happy” with the way the bill was passed.

”Now the president can say he has no power over the media,” Mausoom said.

However government’s backtracking today suggest it may not be prepared to hand control of the state broadcasters to parliament so readily.