Cameraman ‘forced’ to erase footage of PG meeting judge

A cameraman of the opposition aligned Raajje TV was forced to erase footage of a meeting between prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin and criminal court judge Abdul Bari Yousuf at a café, the broadcasting commission has found.

The PG allegedly met Bari at the Café Layaali in Malé on March 8 while the latter was presiding over former president Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

The pair have denied the meeting took place, and Muhsin has previously said he would resign immediately if the allegations are proven to be true.

Following an inquiry, the commission determined on Monday that the Raajje TV journalists “faced reasons forcing them to delete the footage.”

“As the commission saw that this was a situation that obstructed press freedom, the members who participated in the meeting to conclude this case decided unanimously to appeal to all parties to ensure that broadcasters and the media as a whole do not face such compulsion in order to maintain an environment where journalists can fully exercise the right guaranteed by the constitution and laws without fear,” reads the summary statement of the report prepared the commission.

The commission also investigated a complaint alleging that Raajje TV disseminated false information as PG Muhsin denied meeting the judge. The commission decided that the station did not violate the broadcasting code of content as it had sought comment from both Muhsin and Bari.

The meeting took place days before a three-judge panel sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges. Judge Bari also presided over ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s trial on weapons smuggling charges.

After Raajje TV reported the alleged meeting, the criminal court barred the station’s reporters from attending hearings. The court accused Raajje TV of “spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges.”

Muhsin meanwhile told Minivan News at the time that the judge was already at the café when he went there for a meal with family members.

However, Raajje TV insisted the pair were sitting at the same table and that Muhsin had walked away when the journalist started asking questions.

At the time, a Raajje TV staff told Minivan News that a group of young men led by Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Assad forced the cameramen to delete the footage.

In 2013, the watchdog Judicial Service Commission suspended Judge Bari for over a year pending the outcome of a complaint lodged against him for alleged misconduct.

Although the commission did not reveal any details of the complaint, local media reported that a female attorney from the Prosecutor General’s Office had alleged that Bari had sexually assaulted her.

Bari was cleared of the allegations and resumed duty at Criminal Court on July 24, 2014.


Court rules in favour of Medianet in World Cup rebroadcasting dispute

The Civil Court has ruled yesterday that the Maldives Broadcasting Commission’s (MBC) order for cable TV service provider Medianet to cease airing FIFA World Cup matches on any channels except state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Villa TV (VTV) was unlawful.

Medianet had sued the commission after MBC ordered the company to halt rebroadcasting matches on channels Sony Six, Sony Six HD and Sony Pix pending an inquiry, insisting that only TVM and VTV were authorised to broadcast matches.

In its verdict, the Civil Court reportedly ruled that the commission had not followed due process and was not authorised to issue such an order under broadcasting laws and regulations.

The court’s decision came ahead of the World Cup final match last night. MBC members have since told local media that the commission was seeking legal advice before deciding whether to appeal the verdict at the High Court.

Following Medianet’s refusal to comply with the commission’s first order, MBC had issued a second order instructing the company to comply “without any conditions”. Both orders were annulled by the Civil Court ruling yesterday.

Medianet had also refused to comply with instructions from the commission to broadcast matches shown on TVM and VTV in high definition.

Medianet is currently the only cable television service provider in the Maldives.

Lobbying group

At a press conference following the verdict yesterday, Medianet Director Ahmed Nashid – opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for Komandoo – contended that the commission could no longer be considered an independent institution.

A recently formed lobbying group comprised of private broadcasters was exerting undue influence over the MBC, he alleged, adding that the group had “hijacked” the commission.

The commission ordered Medianet to cease airing World Cup matches on channels except TVM and VTV a day after a meeting between the lobby group and MBC members, he noted.

Nashid further accused the MBC of participating in the lobby group’s alleged efforts to defame Medianet.

Claiming financial losses caused by the dispute, Nashid also said the company was considering suing MBC members for damages.

The lobby group meanwhile released a press statement yesterday accusing the MBC’s legal counsel of not adequately defending the commission’s stance.

The commission’s lawyer had conceded in court that the matter was under investigation and that due process was not followed, the lobby group said.

Moreover, the lawyer had not attempted to prove that Medianet deliberately misled the commission, the statement added.

Medianet had not sought authorisation in accordance with FIFA rules for rebroadcasting matches, the lobby group insisted.

MBC had maintained that Medianet’s agreement with Indian broadcaster Sony MSM was not made in accordance with Maldivian broadcasting law and that the company’s decision to charge an MVR100 fee for viewing matches on channels 100 and 100 plus was also illegal.

The FIFA World Cup was a “listed event” and Medianet had not sought authorisation to broadcast matches, MBC had said.

Moreover, the commission noted that only TVM and VTV had obtained rights to broadcast the event.

However, Nashid explained yesterday that the company had signed an agreement with Sony Six to broadcast the channel’s content for two years.

He stressed that the agreement was not limited to airing World Cup matches.


DhiFM Plus airs upside down photo of broadcasting commission chair

Private broadcaster DhiTV and sister network DhiFM Plus have responded to threats of action by the Broadcasting Commission regarding violations of the broadcasting code of practice by displaying an upside down photo of the commission’s chair, Mohamed Shaheeb.

The commission issued a stern warning yesterday of possible action against the broadcaster for repeatedly displaying upside down photos of Elections Commission (EC) members in late February.

As the commission had previously decided that the move contravened the broadcasting code of practice, the broadcasting regulator said in a statement yesterday that its members unanimously decided to issue a warning to Broadcasting Maldives Pvt Ltd – the company that operates DhiTV – under article 44(a)(2) of the Broadcasting Commission Act.

The upside down photo of Shaheeb on DhiFM’s visual radio channel – also aired on DhiTV during its downtime – is accompanied by a news ticker that reads, ‘Experts say that making such a harsh announcement while [we] have been apologising in compliance with the Broadcasting Commission’s instructions is a step backwards for democracy’.

Last month, the commission asked DhiFM Plus to publicly apologise for broadcasting an upside down photo of former EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek.

The commission noted at the time that the station had previously been advised that the upside-down content was in violation of the code of practice, instructing the private broadcaster to issue a statement of apology to be aired between 8:00pm and 10:00pm before March 26.

The station had been asked in February to cease broadcasting upside down photos pending the conclusion of an investigation by the commission.

Similar advice was given to the broadcaster in November last year after upside down photos of three EC members were shown with a caption alleging electoral fraud in the annulled September 7 presidential election.

In March, the Supreme Court stripped Thowfeek and EC Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz of their membership over charges of contempt of court, prompting DhiTV and DhiFM to resume airing their upside down photos.

Following the incident, the broadcasting commission sent a circular to all broadcasters noting that it had received complaints and appealed against the disrespectful use of photos.


Broadcasting Commission appeals against disrespectful use of photos of state officials

The Broadcasting Commission of Maldives has urged local television stations not to use photos of state officials “in a way that undermines their dignity.”

In a circular sent to all broadcasters, the commission noted that following complaints regarding the disrespectful use of photos it had already taken action against media outlets for violating the broadcasting code of practice formulated under article 37 of the Broadcasting Act.

“However, the commission has once again started to receive complaints of some channels broadcasting the photos of the heads of various institutions in ways that undermines their dignity,” the circular stated.

The complaints reportedly referred to government-aligned private broadcaster DhiTV and its sister network DhiFM Plus showing photos of three members of the Elections Commission – Fuwad Thowfeek, Ahmed Fayaz and Ali Mohamed Manik – upside down with a caption alleging that they committed electoral fraud in the annulled September 7 presidential election.

Following an investigation, the commission reportedly decided to advise the Broadcasting Maldives Pvt Ltd, which operates DhiTV, and the Maldives Media Company Pvt Ltd, which runs DhiFM, to make sure the photos are not broadcasted in the future.


Media Council expresses concern with court ordered police investigation of Raajje TV

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has expressed concern with the Supreme Court asking police to investigate a report aired by opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

The MMC noted in a press release yesterday (October 25) that attending complaints concerning the content of Maldivian media outlets and taking measures was within the legal mandate of the media council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).

“The Maldives Media Council Act states that it is the media council that should investigate issues concerning press freedom and take measures. And a police investigation of such a case would be an obstruction of the press freedom established in the Maldives as well as an act that would instil fear in the hearts of journalists,” the statement read.

The MMC statement concluded by urging all state institutions to submit complaints regarding the media to the council and to “respect the laws and the bounds of the constitution.”

According to local media reports, the Supreme Court asked both the police and the broadcasting commission to investigate the Raajje TV report.

Mohamed Shaheeb from the broadcasting commission told newspaper Haveeru that the Supreme Court ordered the commission to share the findings of its investigation within 10 days.

Shaheeb noted that the law gave the commission 60 days to investigate complaints, adding that it had to provide sufficient time to the accused media outlet to respond to the charges.

The offending programme on Raajje TV reportedly compared the state of the Maldivian judiciary to the injustice of ancient Sodom.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.

“Contempt of court”

The Supreme Court has previously asked the police to investigate lawyers and MPs for alleged contempt of court for publicly criticising the judiciary.

In February 2013, the Supreme Court suspended lawyer Abdulla Haseen after he criticised the judiciary in an appearance on Raajje TV.

Haseen was barred from advocating in any court in the country while the Supreme Court asked police to investigate him for contempt of court.

The Prosecutor General’s Office however decided not to prosecute Haseen after police concluded its investigation.

However, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Alhan Fahmy have been charged with contempt of court after allegedly defaming the Supreme Court.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern over “the case of a lawyer who had been indefinitely suspended by the Supreme Court for allegedly criticizing one of its judgements in public”.

“Such a suspension leaves no avenue for appeal and review and it represents a violation of the rights of the lawyer. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about reports regarding threats of contempt of court used to muzzle the freedom of expression of lawyers,” the report stated.


DhiTV sues over terrestrial broadcasting license

Broadcasting Maldives Pvt Ltd, which operates DhiTV, has sued the Telecommunications Authority of the Maldives (TAM) for reportedly refusing to grant the private channel a terrestrial broadcasting license.

At yesterday’s Civil Court hearing on the case, State Attorney Ahmed Usham argued that a decision on DhiTV’s license should be made by the recently-formed broadcasting commission, once its members are sworn in to office.

Usham claimed that the government has stopped enforcing existing broadcasting regulations as parliament was in the process of formulating new broadcasting laws.

However the plaintiff’s lawyer Azima Shukoor insisted that the government did not have the authority to disregard the broadcasting regulations.

At the previous hearing, Usham revealed that under the agreement renewed on December 2, 2010, DhiTV was granted a license to broadcast via satellite while the Broadcasting Company had not participated in the bidding for terrestrial licenses in 2007 when a company called Atoll Investment was granted the license.

Former Attorney General Azima argued at yesterday’s hearing that as a result of the government’s decision to renew DhiTV’s agreement with only the license to broadcast via satellite and not cable as before, the media company’s service was not widely available.


Parliament approves members to Broadcasting Commission

Parliament approved seven members to the newly-instituted Maldives Broadcasting Commission yesterday, after voting on nominees put forward by President Mohamed Nasheed.

The seven members approved to the commission were Badr Naseer, Aishath Hana, Mohamed Shaheeb, Mariyam Shaugy, Ibrahim Ashraf, Moomina Adam and Abdulla Shujau.