Broadcasting Commission President Badr Naseer resigns over government’s allegations of “negligence”

President of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), Badr Naseer, has resigned after the government accused MBC of negligence following the murder of Lance Corporal Adam Haleem last week.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor had said that the MBC had failed to take disciplinary measures against opposition aligned Raajje TV, alleging Haleem’s death was a result of the station inciting violence against the security forces.

“Institutions that must take responsibility are not doing their job. [We have] to take action against them. The executive will conduct necessary legal work to take such action. We will submit this case to the Majlis. We are also ready to take necessary action through the courts,” she told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) on July 23.

Naseer denied the allegations, claiming consecutive governments had expressed “no interest” in strengthening the MBC. Further, the government’s claims had increased public hatred towards the commission’s members to the point members were unable to walk on the streets, Naseer said in a statement published today.

“The government has shown no interest in strengthening the Broadcasting Commission, and this commission has now become the recipient of government and public hatred. I have been defamed in the process and hence, I do not see any reason why I should spend the rest of my life in this state of psychological and physical danger,” Naseer stated.

Tensions have been on the rise in Malé after Haleem’s death. The government has stepped up verbal attacks on Raajje TV and ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), pledging to take action against the two parties for “inciting hatred and violence” against security forces.

Police have said they will no longer cooperate with or provide protection to Raajje TV for broadcasting CCTV footage of some police officers, whom the station alleged were “caught on video” while they were stealing petrol from a motorbike parked in a small road in Male’.

The MBC has ordered Raajje TV to broadcast an apology over the report.

Although the MBC was established on April 4, 2011 as an independent state institution mandated with developing and regulating broadcast media, consecutive governments had not provided the necessary technical and human resource needs for the commission to function, Naseer claimed.

The MBC had asked successive foreign, transport and finance ministers for assistance, but had received little response, he added. Furthermore, new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan had not responded to repeated requests for a meeting, Naseer said.

Despite countless requests for a media-monitoring system, the commission at present only had facilities to monitor four TV channels, but had no equipment to monitor content on radio channels, Naseer said.

He raised concern over the lack of a monitoring system, “because we know the importance and dangers of broadcast media given the direction Maldives is taking.”

He said 20 additional TV channels will be established in the Maldives before the next presidential election.

“Although the commission is independent on paper, we have to question how independent the commission can be when the commission’s budget is controlled by the Finance Ministry,” Naseer said.

Naseer defended the commission’s record, arguing that although commission members had worked from around a conference table, they had published several laws and broadcasting standards and ethics, and had taken disciplinary action against broadcast media when necessary.

Explaining his decision to resign, Naseer said: “Instead of harassment and political hatred from the public and government, I want a peaceful life more suited to my age.”

Naseer has worked in state media until he retired at 65 years of age. He was then appointed to MBC with unanimous support from the People’s Majlis.

International non-profit organisation, the committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has expressed concerns that press freedom was “deteriorating” under the present government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

“Reports of police brutality against journalists amid political chaos, and a vicious attack for writing about religious tolerance, are disturbing signs that the Maldives is backsliding on press freedom,” CPJ Senior Researcher Madeline Earp wrote on the organisation’s blog.

“[The president] must ensure that journalists are free to report if he wishes to distance himself from [Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom’s legacy and stabilise the nation for elections.”