‘We don’t have guns but we can fight with our pens’: Hiriga

Attacks on five senior DhiTV senior officials and the stabbing of a Haveeru employee yesterday afternoon have sparked concern among media outlets that they could be subject to further attacks over their content.

DhiTV reported on its 2 o’clock news yesterday that alleged gang leader Ibrahim ‘Chika’ Nafiz  had been released to house arrest. Soon after the broadcast, a gang reportedly stormed DhiTV studios.

Three hours later a Haveeru printery worker left in a critical condition after being stabbed outside the building.

Police have not yet confirmed whether the two cases are connected, but arrested ten people yesterday evening suspected of involvement in the attacks, including Chika.

“He was arrested in his home last night,” said a police spokesperson, “and today the court gave us five days for further investigation.”

Chika will remain under police custody until the court hearing. Police have meanwhile launched a special operation to investigate the attacks.

The spokesperson said he did not know if the attacks were intended to be a direct message to the media, but said “this really shows how the situation is here.”

‘We will fight with our pens’

President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) and Editor of Haveeru, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, said he believed the incidents were “direct attacks on the media.”

“The ruling party members are consistently blaming the media, and suddenly a gang leader leaves jail and attacks us,” Hiriga said, claiming there were political motives behind the attacks.

“The media is in a very bad situation, it is very vulnerable and young.”

Hiriga said he believed DhiTV and Haveeru were targeted because they are “the most vibrant media in this country” and the attacks were “certainly connected.”

He said the attackers had mentioned Haveeru when they entered the DhiTV building, and the police had been informed of this “but did not take enough precautions.”

Hiriga said he did “not want journalists to be afraid, but they are.”

He mentioned that some TV presenters were now “unwilling to appear on TV, and unwilling to report particular news items” because they were “very much afraid that their lives could be put in danger.”

“When law enforcement agencies fail, anything might happen at any time,” he said.

DhiTV CEO Yousuf Navaal said yesterday that “until we receive assurance [of our safety] that we can report this type of news, we will not cover it anymore.”

Hiriga however described Navaal’s approach as “not very professional”, especially since DhiTV had “asked Haveeru not to report on the issue either.

“The media should be one front and approach [these issues] as a collective, but this doesn’t happen,” Hiriga said, suggesting that Navaal was “reluctant” to report the story “because he has not been given enough confidence that the law is under control.”

Deputy Director General of TVM, Mohamed Asif, said the station had not taken extra security measures and were “hesitant and reluctant to report on these issues.”

Hiriga said media should not give in to intimidation: “We don’t have guns but we can fight with our pens!”


DhiTV reported yesterday that Chika had been released to house arrest by the Department for Penitentiary and Rehabilitaion Service (DPRS).

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said the media had been reporting the wrong information, and “he was not released to house arrest”, but had in fact been taken to the DPRS for questioning two days ago.

Adil said the DPRS was investigating Chika and “he signed a paper saying he would cooperate and not leave his house.”

Spokesperson for the DPRS Moosa Rameez said Chika had been in the department’s rehabilitation programme for “six to seven months”, and referred Minivan News to DPRS Managing Director, Mohamed Rasheed.

However Rasheed said he did not want to comment on the issue.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Chika had been brought to Malé from Maafushi jail for an MRI scan. The source said it was common practice to bring prisoners to Malé when they require medical attention.

Police confirmed Chika had not been placed under house arrest, but would not say why he was in his house yesterday evening.


Cameraman and journalist forced out of MDP rally, claims DhiTV

A journalist and cameraman from DhiTV attending an MDP rally last night were threatened and forced outside last night, the station claims.

Editor of DhiTV Midhath Adam said it was not the first time MDP supporters had threatened DhiTV’s journalists and cameramen.

”They sometimes used to say they would destroy our property,” he added.

Adam said “a well known MDP activist” ordered them to leave last night.

”Alhan Fahmy and some other senior members of the party were also there,” he said, noting that ”they did not seem to care about it.”

Adam said although the party “treats journalists this way”, the station would continue to attend MDP’s rallies.

”They used to attack our journalists verbally and threaten us but we would still go to cover their meetings.” he said.

MDP MP Alhan Fahmy said he was not present when the incident occurred.

”If I was there I would not had let it happen.” Alhan said. ”As soon as I knew about it I went to stop them from leaving but they were gone.”

Alhan agreed such actions brought the party a bad name.

”It is not MDP’s policy to stop the media doing its duty,” he said.

DRP Vice President Umar Naseer said he was “not surprised” by the incident as “they hate DhiTV.”

“DhiTV is the best political media in the country,” Naseer said.

He claimed MDP hated DhiTV mostly because it showed old footage of President Mohamed Nasheed and reminded people about the government’s unfulfilled pledges.


DhiTV interested in commercial arrangement with public broadcaster TVM

Privately-owned television station DhiTV is among six parties to have expressed interest in a joint venture arrangement with the ailing Maldives National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), which broadcasts rival channels including Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).

DhiTV CEO Yoosuf Nawaal said the station had approached MNBC and offered to buy TVM’s land for Rf100 million (US$7.78 million), “and they would pay us a monthly rent of Rf1 million (US$77,800).”

“We actually gave them quite a clean business offer; in terms of interest it was about 10 per cent,” Nawaal said, adding that DhiTV was only interested in the land not the property on it as “TVM’s equipment and staff are quite old.”

As for the broadcaster’s independence, “they would be running the show and we would not be involved.”

MNBC’s Managing Director Ibrahim Khaleel did not confirm that DhiTV was one of the interested parties but did state that one was “local” while the others were foreign interests.

“During last year six parties expressed interest, five foreign and one local company. But their interest was a commercial interest and not our interest,” Khaleel said. He added that the local company concerned was a “very established company”, and “if we do some business with them it may not be as a partner, but to share some services. That would be one way of doing it.”

He emphasised that media reports this morning suggesting that MNBC was selling its stations “are not true. We are not going to sell, and we are not looking to sell. We are looking for a partner for a joint venture [agreement].”

MNBC was currently trying to “reduce and restructure” TVM, he explained, “as at the moment it is an expensive operation.”

If the partner turned out to be another local media company, he noted, “I think we have to think about a lot of things.”

“Public service broadcasting is very important. We are trying to become a developed nation and that means developing not only buildings, but the intellectual community [as well],” he said.

“I think if someone was interested, the partner should agree that TVM and VOM would remain as public service broadcasting. We have to set standards and editorial guidelines, because it will be a problem if they are not there.”

MNBC’s other channels, including YouthTV and RaajjeFM, represented commercial opportunities for the right partner, Khaleel said.

“As well as commercialising YouthTV and RaajjeFM, they could create another channel or develop internet, mobile and cable [broadcasting],” he suggested. “If someone expresses interest we will sit down together and discuss how we can handle it.”

There were many successful models for running state media, he agreed, but Maldives was unique because of its small population.

“Everyone says the BBC model is great, but the population, technology and human resource situation is completely different here in the Maldives. We have 300,000 people, and the expenditure for a public broadcasting service is huge.”

The current program of “reducing and restructuring” would not affect the editorial quality of the state broadcaster because of the organisation’s investment in training, he insisted.

“We need to develop our staff. For 47 years of radio and broadcast there has not been a single human being with a diploma or a degree involved. We are funding 14 journalist diplomas and have sent 15 staff to study degree-level journalism abroad. Most important thing is not numbers [of staff], but quality and experience.”

President of the Maldives Journalist Association Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said he was not in favour of foreign influence on local media, and that furthermore he felt “state TV should remain state TV, even if it was run with a much lower budget.”

“TVM’s budget is Rf100 million (US$7.78 million), they could cut that in half. I think the state would provide that,” he said.