Raajje TV and VTV ordered to apologise for defamation

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has ordered private broadcasters Raajje TV and Villa TV (VTV) to apologise for defamatory material and ordered the stations to broadcast live events with a delay to minimise future defamation.

The broadcast media regulator said Raajje TV had aired an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meeting on September 23, 2013, in which an MDP member had defamed the Supreme Court bench.

VTV is said to have aired material defamatory to MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, MP Rozaina Adam, and Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek during its daily talk show ‘Fasmanzaru’ on September 27, 2013.

MBC has ordered Rajje TV and VTV to broadcast an apology and to allow the wronged party to speak in their defense by January 31. Furthermore, VTV has been ordered to broadcast ‘Fasmanzaru’ with a broadcast delay and Raajje TV has been ordered to broadcast all political events with a broadcast delay.

Speaking to Minivan News, VTV CEO Ibrahim Khaleel said the MBC’s decision “limited the freedom of the press”, and that the station did not see any reason to air an apology.

According to Khaleel, MBC ordered VTV to apologise for comments made on air by MP Ilham Ahmed and MP ‘Redwave’ Ahmed Saleem.

“The constitution guarantees freedom of expression within the tenets of Islam and we, as a TV station, gave airtime to politicians to express their opinions. No one has said anything contrary to a tenet of Islam,” Khaleel argued.

If any party feels they have been wronged, then the laws allow them to pursue defamation charges or to seek compensation through other means, he added.

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Yamin Rasheed also condemned the MBC’s decision as “discriminatory”.

“It is not fair when MBC only orders specific TV channels to air specific programmes or events with a delay,” Yamin said arguing that other broadcasters must also be ordered to broadcast all political events with a delay.

Yamin also expressed concern over MBC ordering the station to air an apology over an MDP MP’s comments. However, he said Raajje TV would broadcast an apology and would allow the Supreme Court judges an hour to speak in their defense.

MBC has previously ordered Raajje TV, Dhi TV, and Dhi FM to apologise for defamatory material.

Raajje TV was ordered to apologise in December 2013 for airing a report defaming the Supreme Court, but MBC said the report does not constitute a national security threat as alleged by the apex court.

Furthermore, in July 2012, MBC ordered Raajje TV to apologise for airing a report alleging that a policeman had stolen petrol from a motorbike, and in August 2012 the station was ordered to issue an apology on three consecutive nights for publicising Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim’s text messages

In March 2012, Dhi FM was similarly reprimanded for content aired following the overthrow of Nasheed’s administration on February 8, 2012.


Jumhooree coalition accuses EC of costing it votes on election day

Jumhooree coalition Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s spokesperson Ibrahim Khaleel has accused the Elections Commission (EC) of anti-campaigning against their candidate.

Khaleel is quoted in local media as stating that the EC has today infringed upon the electoral rights of candidates.

Khaleel stated that the EC, in a press conference held Saturday afternoon, had spoken about the JP refusing to sign the voters’ list which is to be used in a second round of elections which, if necessary, are to be held on Sunday.

He then alleged that this statement by the EC would lead Gasim to lose support.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek cited words of JP’s Deputy Leader Ibrahim Didi, who, according to Thowfeek had told him the party “had no objections with proceeding with elections, but [we] refuse to sign the voter lists”, and also had stated he would send in a letter saying the same.

Khaleel, however, denied that this way the party’s stand and claimed instead that it was the deputy leader’s personal opinion.

EC Member Ali Mohamed Manik had been asked a similar question at today’s press conference by Gasim-owned VMedia, whether the commission’s intention was to anti-campaign by talking about the matter.

“We will neither campaign nor anti-campaign for anyone. We have no interest whatsoever in electing any particular candidate. I don’t believe that we have infringed any candidates’ rights by truthfully and factually answering media queries about who has so far signed or not signed the register.”

“We have a window of less than 24 hours between the two rounds of voting, and so we must speak of the matter. If this is then interpreted as anti-campaigning, then the only choice left would be to stop providing information to the media completely, and that probably is not an acceptable option.”


Port workers strike to “send a message to the government”

The Maldives Ports Workers Union (MPWU) has taken strike action today following the Supreme Court’s decision – backed by the government – to postpone the second round of the presidential election.

“We are taking our constitutional right to give a message to the government,” said Ibrahim Khaleel, President of the Maldives Ports Workers Union.

Around 90 of the union’s 490 members opted not to come into work for today’s morning shift, though Khaleel pointed out that workers would return to work for the later shift.

“There is not much work there today, but next week we have a charter boat with more than 300 containers. If we are not given an election date, we will stop any future operations. We are just giving that message.”

“The ports union will do this again and again if they do not listen to us,” said Khaleel.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to give a verdict on its election annulment case today – filed by the Jumhooree Party (JP) after its defeat in the first round earlier this month.

After the Elections Commission expressed its intention to go ahead with the polls – scheduled for yesterday (September 28) – the court issued an order to security forces to halt proceedings by force if necessary.

Khaleel said a decision was made not to picket outside the ports today, alleging the port’s management “sent thugs” to attack union workers picketing the port earlier this year.

He argued that police protection had been requested on this prior occasion, but had not been forthcoming.

Both the MPWU and the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) joined forces in May this year to demand amendments to the recently enacted Freedom of Assembly Act.

Clause 24(7)b of the law prohibits any gatherings at the country’s ports, airports, or resorts, without police authorisation – a clause the unions have claimed effectively banned strike action.

After TEAM’s call for “prolonged strikes” last week should the presidential run-off be delayed, Minivan News has received reports of a number of politically motivated dismissals in some of the country’s resorts, in what some staff described as a “firing spree”.

Import dependency

Vice President of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) Ishmael Asif warned of the likely impact such strikes could have on the country.

“As a country that relies heavily on imports for all of its needs,  a ports strike could have severe impacts on business in the country,” he warned.

As small island state with with a land mass of only 115 square miles, the Maldives has near-total dependency upon imports for basic foodstuffs and commodities, as well as goods used to supply the country’s luxury tourism industry which is indirectly responsible for 90 percent of the economy.

The country’s “excessive reliance on imports” was discussed in a recent government report into economic diversification, which noted that the country’s current account deficit had grown to US$600 million (27 percent of GDP) in year 2012.

“The import dependency continues to grow. The CIF [cost, insurance, and freight] value of merchandise imports has increased from us$120 million in 1990 to us$1.5 billion in 2012,” read the report.

It also noted that the country imported over 90 percent of foods in 2012 – worth US$318.9 million –  resulting in “huge implications for food security as well as inflation.”

Male’s port – managed and administered by the Maldives Ports Ltd (MPL) company – handled 580 ships in 2012, processing over one million tonnes of freight.

Current MPL CEO Mohamed Latheef told Minivan News today that he was unaware of any strike activity.

The MPWU staged a small strike last year after it alleged the MPL had removed the workers’ television after they had used it to watch the Maldivian Democratic Party aligned Raajje TV. MPL claimed the disagreement was a misunderstanding.

That strike received high-profile backing from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).


MMC postpones appointing president after internal election stalemate

The appointment of a new president for the Maldives Media Council (MMC) has been postponed after an election held yesterday (July 27) ended in a tie between two candidates competing for the position.

In a statement, the MMC said that a date for a second election would be announced at a later date.

The election was held to appoint a successor to former MMC President Ibrahim Khaleel, who resigned from his post earlier this year.

Local media reported that MMC current Vice President Husham Mohamed and council member Abdulla Shinaan had both received the same number of votes yesterday.