Comment: Journalism in the Maldives

I sit to write this after hearing the news that another journalist has been attacked in the Maldives. Aswad Ibrahim, a journalist for Raajje TV was left critically ill after being repeatedly beaten about the head with a metal bar. We all pray he will recover, just as fellow journalist Ismail Hilath Rasheed recovered after having his throat slashed last year.

This recent attack has prompted me to share some thoughts from my own personal experiences of working as a journalist in the Maldives for much of 2012. The name of the newspaper I worked for was Minivan News – the word ‘Minivan’ meaning independent in the local language.

My time in the Maldives was a fantastic one, but also one of frustration and bemusement at the persistent refusal by many to accept the existence of political impartiality within Maldivian society. Many will already be reaching for their keyboards as they read this, to write disparaging comments about myself, about Minivan News, or about the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – who founded the newspaper in 2005. This was a persistent tactic used by commenters on most of the articles I wrote for Minivan and many of the pieces I produced for other publications at the time.

The most commonly repeated rumours were that we worked very closely with the MDP leadership, in particular with Nasheed himself, and that we were all given a strict editorial line to follow. In actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Personally, I met with Nasheed only once during my time in the Maldives. Three days before I left, I requested a personal meeting with him as he was somebody I had come to admire greatly (and also, because I had never met a President before).

As for the strict diktat, filtering down to the writers from the upper echelons of the MDP, this would take a great deal more organisation than a handful of overheated foreigners hunched over their laptops around a kitchen table can really manage.

A brief account of my background may assuage any accusations that I was, as one commenter put it, an MDP “stooge”. I believe my history to be, if not the same as, at least indicative of, the majority of westerners who come to work for the paper – arriving open-minded, without prior political predisposition.

I ended up in the Maldives shortly after moving to London in search of career opportunities. Prior to this, I had worked as a postman in the north-west of England. The first internship opportunity I secured was with the Maldives’ High Commission.

Despite being an International Relations graduate, I have to admit that prior to my feverish preparation for the job interview that week, I had barely heard of the Maldives, nor could I have pointed it out on a map. All of this begs the question of naysayers who consistently queried my credibility: Why would a postman from Cheshire have strong political affiliations in country he’d never heard of, 5000 miles away?

I will admit that the High Commissioner and Deputy High Commissioner during my time at the High Commission were strongly pro-MDP. Indeed, both resigned shortly after President Nasheed left office. It is this assumption, however, that contact with persons of a certain political persuasion forever diminishes one’s ability to think clearly, that I found particularly insulting.

This attitude was exemplified by the response of business tycoon and politician Gasim Ibrahim when I met him during last year’s parliamentary by-election in Kaashidhoo. Feeling I had nothing to hide, I mentioned to him that I had worked at the High Commission with these people. It was at this point that he smiled knowingly and turned to the rest of his supporters saying “there, you see it”.

Perhaps this was the misperception that those raining blows down on Aswad laboured under. That they were attacking something bigger than him, that he is simply a mouthpiece for a far larger movement. As I experienced, it seems never to occur to people that the writer could be his own person; could have his own integrity; that his words could stem from his own thoughts.

One particularly interesting example of this attitude was the case of Dr Hassan Saeed, whom I met whilst working at the High Commission in London. Dr Saeed, a former Presidential candidate and current Special Advisor to the President, came to London shortly after the change in government in February 2012 to speak with the media. As part of my duties there, I helped to arrange an interview for him with the BBC. During that day we chatted about politics, Maldivian and British, and I found him to be a very pleasant man. However, during my time in the Maldives, I was unable to get him to even sit with me for a cup of coffee.

Understandably, Dr Saeed was surprised to see me in the Maldives when we met at President Waheed’s first public reception at Muleeage. After greeting me, Dr Saeed asked if I was in Male’ in relation to my work with the High Commission. I replied that I was now working with Minivan News, at which point his smile slipped a little.

Thinking I was talking to a friend, I jokingly asked if this would be a problem. He simply replied “no, every paper has its philosophy.” After this we agreed to meet for coffee. Unfortunately, after being politely stalled a few times, Dr Saeed would not return my messages and I realised with disappointment that an excellent opportunity to build a relationship between Minivan and this powerful politician would be missed as, in his mind, I had ceased to be Daniel Bosley and had instead become Nasheed’s mouthpiece.

After this, Dr Saeed failed to respond to almost all of the paper’s calls regarding stories, just as most government ministers do. Read any story published on the site and you will find it littered with phrases such as “the state minister was unavailable for comment”, “Minivan News was awaiting the government’s comment at the time of press”. The article is then almost inevitably followed by many comments stating how biased and “one-sided” it is.

One of the most bizarre experiences I had personally was a President’s Office spokesman calling me a “little shit” over the phone, after I had spent five minutes explaining to him why I needed a quote for a story and could not just write my own opinion. This failure to understand the basic tenets of journalism seems to be the main reason why journalists in the Maldives, like Aswad, are more often becoming the victims of violence.

Dr Hassan Saeed was also rumoured (note that I include the word ‘rumoured’ as I cannot personally substantiate this) to be behind a comical attempt last year to establish a rival English-language news outlet – Maldivian Daily.

This endeavour involved flying in two young journalists from the UK, assigning them minders, and refusing them any of the freedoms a normal journalist would expect – including a warning to steer clear of any Minivan employees (who, me?). This farcical scheme ended soon after the pair began asking too many questions. The employees of Minivan News were given all the details at the airport bar shortly before the first journalist flew home, to be followed by the second weeks later.

This incident would be funny were it not indicative of the repeated attempts to manipulate and coerce the Maldivian media. I fully understand that Raajje TV takes an unashamedly pro-MDP line, but this in itself does not make its content necessarily fallacious. Again, the basic (and often wilful) misunderstanding of the difference between an editorial line and propaganda has led to the refusal of the Maldivian Police to offer Raajje’s journalists even the most basic protection.

In the UK, the Guardian newspaper takes an openly liberal line but its journalists are not labelled communists and beaten in the streets; similarly, Daily Mail writers are not condemned as Nazis. My advice to anyone who feels a news outlet is printing inaccurate information would be to send them to court, not to hospital.

If you are reading this on Minivan News itself (I did not have any particular publication in mind when this stream of consciousness began), you will likely note a thread of derogatory comments below. It is not the policy of the paper to reply to comments made on the site, so I would like to redirect anyone particularly incensed by my remarks to my twitter feed (@dbosley80).

I write this not as an MDP stooge, not to win favour with any individual, not even as a practising journalist. I write as someone disturbed to see a man beaten to within an inch of his life for putting pen to paper; to see a peaceful nation brutalising itself.

The URL at the top of the page should not detract the veracity of my claims, nor should the name of a paper diminish the credibility of a writer’s argument. Similarly, the organisation which Aswad Ibrahim works for does not immediately denigrate his integrity as a journalist.

Perhaps more importantly, it does not remove his rights as a human being – something which many in the Maldives appear to have forgotten.

Daniel Bosley worked as a journalist for Minivan News in 2012.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


MJA criticises MDP for not allowing pluralism in the media

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has criticised the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) after opposition-leaning DhiTV cameras were not allowed to cover an MDP general meeting, reports Miadhu.

The MDP meeting was being held at Lale International School in Hulhumalé, where DhiTV journalists were forced to leave the meeting.

“It is worrying that ruling party members do not understand that pluralism is the essence of democracy,” said the MJA, adding that “such threats against the independence and diversity of the media only serve to blatantly expose the lack of democratic credentials in senior ruling party members.”

The MJA also expressed concern over the intimidation of private media by MDP senior officials.

The MJA condemed “all such acts by ruling party officials and members against democracy and press freedom in Maldives.”