MBC to investigate DhiFM Plus after upside down photo of commission chair broadcast

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has today started investigating a case DhiFM Plus’s airing of an upside down photos of the commission’s Chair Mohamed Shaheeb.

Yesterday DhiFM Plus aired pictures of Shaheeb following the commission’s warning that measures would be taken against the private TV station for airing similar pictures of senior government officials and politicians.

The commission has repeatedly informed the station that such actions violated the MBC code of ethics.

Speaking during a press conference today, MBC’s Director General Mohamed Nasih said that the investigation was initiated by the commission itself, local media reported.

Naish was quoted as saying that Commission Chair Shaheeb would not take part in any meetings held regarding the issue as the case was related to him and so may represent a conflict of interest.

Shaheeb told the media that the commission had not decided what action it would take against DhiFM Plus, noting that the commission did not have the authority to withhold the broadcasting license of any TV station despite being the institution empowered to issue such licenses.

He said that the commission has to file a case with the court if it wished to withhold the license of a TV station.

In a statement given yesterday, MBC said that 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 after the TV station had aired Election Commission (EC) members’ photos upside down.

The upside down photo of MBC’s Shaheeb on DhiFM’s visual radio channel – also aired on DhiTV during its downtime – was accompanied by a news sticker that read, ‘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’.

On March 24, 2014, MBC asked private media outlet DhiFM Plus to issue a public apology for broadcasting the upside down picture of former Elections Commissioner President Fuwad Thowfeek.

In a statement issued at the time, the commission noted that the act was in violation of the broadcasting code of practice and that it had violated the honour of Thowfeek

On February 12, 2014, the MBC advised private TV station DhiTV and its sister company, the radio station DhiFM Plus, to stop using the upside down images Thowfeek.

MBC had given similar advice to the two stations in November last year after they had shown upside down photos of three members of the EC – Thowfeek, Ahmed Fayaz, and Ali Mohamed Manik – with a caption alleging that they had committed electoral fraud in the annulled September 7 presidential election.

The broadcasting commission is a seven-member body entrusted with implementation of broadcasting policy, regulation of broadcasting industry, and the promotion of responsible broadcasting.

It was formed in 2010 under the Broadcasting Act.


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.


DhiFM apologises for broadcasting MNBC One live feed

Privately-owned radio station, DhiFM, has apologised for accidentally switching to a live feed of the MNBC One eight o’clock news bulletin on November 11.

Sun Online reported that Mohamed Jinah, head of news and current affairs at DhiFM, was questioned by police last Thursday after the state broadcaster lodged a complaint.

Jinah told press outside police headquarters that the radio station had apologised to MNBC CEO Mohamed Asif and explained how the incident occurred in a letter to Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh.

Jinah said he regretted the state broadcaster’s decision to file the complaint after Asif accepted the apology.


Broadcasting Commission reprimands DhiFM’s use of “indecent language”

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has reprimanded private broadcaster DhiFM for repeated use of “indecent language” during programmes aired by the radio station and simultaneously broadcast live by sister network DhiTV in its “visual radio” segment.

In a press statement released last week, the commission said that it has advised DhiFM to strengthen its editorial policy and comply with the broadcasting agreement.

MBC noted that all broadcasters had a responsibility to ensure that its content was in accordance with provisions of the broadcast license agreement and did not contain language that could be considered offensive.

However, the commission did not specify the kind of language featured in the radio station’s live programming.

“Broadcast content should not include any words, gestures or actions that does not fit social norms of conduct,” the MBC statement noted.

It added that the commission has recently met broadcasters to discuss legal measures that could be taken for violations of the broadcasting agreement.

Deputy CEO of DhiFM Mohamed Jinah told Minivan News that the MBC’s statement was made regarding remarks by a caller during a live program called “Morning Edition.”

“He made comments about the President, and that same day we officially informed the commission and the police about this incident,” Jinah explained. “We do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and we will never encourage it.”

Jinah noted that last week a popular local TV station broadcast video footage of MPs using objectionable language.

“But the commission does not seem to have seen or heard that,” he said. “It’s very unfair that the commission has not said anything about it. Before broadcasting any material, the broadcaster has to check the content, it is a responsibility of the TV station.”

Jihan revealed that the police were currently investigating the case.


IFJ condemns police investigation of DhiFM’s leaked exam paper story

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has questioned the decision by the Maldives Police Service to ask DhiFM news editor Mohamed Jinah Ali about the authenticity of a news story concerning a leaked examination paper.

The report, aired on December 29, 2010, alleged that an international standard O’Level examination paper was leaked and later found hidden in a fish container.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that police were asked to investigate the accuracy of the story by the Department of Public Examinations (DPE).

“They say the story was completely false,” Shiyam said.

Police had discussed the matter with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) which had not sought to block police from investigating the case, Shiyam said.

While defamation has been decriminalised in the Maldives, disseminating false information technically remains a crime under the 1968 Penal Code, and attracts a fine of between Rf25-200 (US$1.6-US$12.9) depending on severity.

Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer told Minivan News that the story published by DhiFM concerned an exam conducted by a private company and had no connection with the Department of Public Examination, as inferred in the story.

“There is no truth in it at all – we had a chat with the guy who reported it. It was a private company conducting the exam – it had nothing to do with the DPE,” he said. “The guy at DhiFM who reported it told us he heard it from a guy who worked at Sri Lankan Airlines. It was a sensitive issue fabricated for the sake of gaining publicity.”

Dr Nazeer claimed the DPE had approached police over the matter “because at the time there was no media authority.”

President of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) Mohamed Nazeef however expressed concern about the government’s request that police investigate a matter concerning media ethics.

“The complaint made [by the DPE] was about DhiFM’s story – there doesn’t seem to have been a crime committed,” Nazeef said. “So what are the police trying to investigate?”

He speculated that the DPE may have made the complaint seeking to identify the source of the story within its own department.

“The original story said that the information came from an informant inside the department. What they probably want to know is the name of the official,” Nazreef suggested.

“I don’t know whether the story is true – journalists report from their sources. If there is an issue with [a story] then the complaint should be sent to the media council, or the broadcasting commission. The constitution guarantees the protection of sources.”

Nazreef noted that the MMC had no role in the matter while it was being investigated by official authority, such as the police.

“We are waiting to see how this goes off. If it goes against the Constitution we will issue a statement,” he said. “It will take some time for us to digest new media freedoms. There is a long tradition in this country of going to the police and seeking the punishment of journalists for something they have published.”


Parliament cuts off live feed to DhiFM, summons journalists

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.


Journalist reports DhiFM to police, claiming management leaked source’s identity

Former DhiFM journalist Qufthag Ajeer has reported the private radio station to police, alleging senior management deliberately leaked the source of his story concerning mistreated employees at the Hulhule’ Island Hotel (HIH).

Ajeel, who recently resigned over the issue,  has sent a letter to Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh requesting a “fair investigation” of the case.

“The Hulhule Island Hotel threatened to take legal action against DhiFM if the source of the report was not revealed,” said Ajeer. “DhiFM then revealed the hidden source to the Hulhule Island Hotel without my knowledge.”

Ajeer alleged that DhiFM management searched through his personal folder at work to obtain the source’s identity before revealing it to HIH without his consent, or that of the source.

Article 28 of the constitution guarantees absolute protection of journalists from being forced to reveal sources: “No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

Such so-called ‘shield laws’ are intended to increase the accountability of businesses, organisations and governments by promoting ‘whistle-blowing’, ensuring protection of sources if a media organisation is taken to court and preventing journalists from being held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal them. They do not protect against the pursuit of defamation cases.

As a consequence of DhiFM’s action, Ajeer said that the Hulhule Island Hotel has now warned the source that he will be dismissed for disclosing the information.

Editor of DhiFM Masoodh Hilmy told Minivan News that Ajeer was “misled”.

“I can confidentially say that no person at DhiFM revealed the source of the article,” said Hilmy. “But the Hulhule Island Hotel did request us to reveal the source and said they take would legal action against us.”

Hilmy said DhiFM replied to the Hulhule Island Hotel saying that the source would only be revealed if the court ordered the news organisation to do so.

“The Hulhule Island Hotel did not threaten us, but demanded an apology claiming the article contained false allegations,” he added.

President of the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) Ahmed Hiriga Zahir, compared the matter to Watergate and told Minivan News that journalists had a responsibility to confide sources with their editors.

However if the institution then revealed the identity of a source to a third party, “I don’t think this is ethical.”

“They should respect sources. Even the constitution guarantees the protection of sources for a journalist.”

Hiriga suggested that some senior journalists and editorial leadership in the country did not have this background in the principles of journalism- “it may be they don’t know what they are doing,” he said.

Ajeer was among six DhiFM journalists who launched a protest outside the media company’s offices yesterday, alleging unfair dismissal and claiming editorial pressure to produce negative coverage of the government.

The Media Council of the Maldives meanwhile issued a statement claiming that the protesting DhiFM journalists were a “serious obstacle” to the press freedom in the country, and that disagreements among reporters about newsroom policy should be resolved internally.

Ajeer pointed out that the Media Council consisted of “two senior DhiFM officials trying to defend DhiFM.”


Sacked DhiFM journalists protest over unfair dismissal, editorial interference

Six journalists from private radio station DhiFM launched a protest outside the media company’s offices today, claiming unfair dismissal and editorial pressure for negative coverage of the government.

The journalists began protesting this afternoon outside Champa Guest House, which houses DhiFM and DhiTV, holding up placards that read: “Protect the rights of the journalists” and “Stop using media as a propaganda machine”.

“We are all protesting because our organisation terminated its staff in violation of the Employment Act and because it has also broken media ethics,” said one of the journalists. “Four of us here were sacked and the other two resigned.”

The journalist claimed that the sacked reporters were not given notice and were owed unpaid salaries.

“We cannot work freely. This is a very biased media,” he continued. “The management has a lot of influence on our work. We have to write stories the way that they want, according to their idea of politics.”

He added that the journalists did not accept the reason for the dismissals given by the management, which was reportedly to cut costs, as the station was presently hiring more staff.

Gufthaq Ajeel, 19, told Minivan News that he quit the station in protest after management allegedly leaked the source of a news report he filed about unhappy employees at the Hulhule Island Hotel (HIH).

“They went into my personal folder and leaked it,” he said.

As Article 28 of the constitution protects journalists from being compelled to disclose sources, Gufthaq said that he had filed a complaint with the police on Wednesday.

Moreover, he added, reporters at DhiFM were occasionally told to skew reports for an anti-government slant.

Following DhiFM’s coverage of a large rally in Male’ by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in July, Qufthaq explained, the DhiFM newsroom was shut down and four of its journalists fired.


The protesters called for the resignation of DhiFM CEO Masoodh Hilmy and other senior management.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Masoodh denied the claims of his former employees.

“We had to terminate three of them due to punctuality and disciplinary issues, and the other three resigned of their own wishes,” he said. “We provided all the allowances and salaries mentioned in the Employment Act for the staff we terminated.”

He added that prior warnings were given to the staff verbally before the decision to dismiss was made.

“Nobody can handle it when one is too much,” he said.

Masoodh further denied the allegations of bias and undue influence on journalists working for the private broadcaster.

“If you asked a staff here you will understand, we have no influence on the journalists,” he said.

President of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Ahmed Hiriga Zahir, told Minivan News that one of the journalists had contacted the MJA this morning notifying him of the intent to protest, “but otherwise we know little about it. We have not yet spoken to DhiFM management to get their side.”

The MJA was willing to assist the journalists by lobbying DhiFM management if requested, he said, but noted that the MJA had yet to evolve into a  journalists’ union and was more focused on promoting issues such as media freedom.

Asked if the MJA was concerned about allegations from the sacked journalists of editorial interference, he observed that “media organisations have the freedom to decide whether they want to be pro or anti-government.”

“In countries like the US it is common for media [outlets] to even endorse political candidates, but that should not affect the [ethical] standards of their news reporting. Media’s role is still to keep the government accountable,” Hiriga stated.

Visiting journalism trainer Tiare Rath, Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), last month identified resistance among senior editorial leadership in the country to evolve away from politically partisan media.

“I have been really impressed with news judgement here, and the understanding of the basic principles of journalism,” Rath said of her experience training young reporters in the Maldives.

“But on the other hand, one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers. Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” she said. “This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”