International Federation of Journalists condemns attack on Maldivian cameraman

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned an attack on a Villa Television (VTV) cameraman while he was reportedly covering a Maldivian Democratic Party protest.

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), an affiliate of the IFJ, highlighted that attacks on journalists are becoming common during political rallies in the Maldives.

Due to the attack on VTV cameraman Rilwan Moosa, the MJA has called on the Maldives Media Council to initiate steps to ensure a safe environment for reporting public events.

The IFJ, who represent over 600,000 journalists in 131 countries, has expressed the need for greater safety for journalists amid the political tension in the Maldives.


Raaje TV to commence satellite uplink service by mid-July as IFJ raises broadcast concerns

Raaje TV expects to resume satellite broadcasts to the Maldives’ outer islands by mid-July after alleging the government was behind delays in issuing a temporary permit needed to provide its services to a national audience.

The private media group’s  chairman Akram Kamaaluddin earlier this week claimed that political influence was behind a delay in obtaining a satellite uplink permit. Without such a permit, Raaje TV has claimed its signal is limited to an estimated 20 percent of homes in the country.

The broadcaster said that although it had now been given a temporary license to establish its own satellite uplink – it remained concerned about the present government’s overall commitment to media freedom.

A President’s Office spokesperson responded today that the government had no involvement in the reported delay in issuing the license. The spokesperson also questioned the validity of the broadcaster’s accusations considering a temporary permit had now been approved by the independent Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM).

The comments were made as media NGO, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), called for greater clarity by Maldivian broadcast authorities such as the CAM over the regulations it employed for supplying licenses to national media organisations.

“As this statement is issued, the MJA informs us that Raajje TV has been granted temporary uplink permission for six months,” said the IFJ Asia-Pacific in a statement released yesterday.

“We welcome this development, even if it is provisional, and call for a clear statement on the norms that will govern the use of the broadcast spectrum, in a manner that will provide ample room for multiple voices and opinions.”

Despite the temporary resolution of the satellite link issue that had affected Raaje TV’s services this week, the IFJ said it had was concerned that “guidelines for permitting plural sources of news and opinions for the people” may have been breached in the Maldives.

“Multiple sources”

“We urge the authorities in the Maldives to make the grant of uplinking permissions the norm, subject only to a list, preferably small and clearly defined, of ineligible entities. Rather than control information flows, the priority should be to ensure that multiple sources of news are available to the people of the republic in this time of political transition,” the NGO stated

“A review of broadcast policy cannot be the basis for denial of such permission, since such a review in today’s world can only move towards allowing greater diversity and competition on the air-waves and not towards restricting access”.

In outlining the current status of broadcast media in the country, the IFJ – which represents  600,000 journalists in 131 countries – claimed that Raajje TV was known for providing alternative news and opinions in the country compared to other private broadcasters .

However, the NGO claimed Raaje TV’s ability to fulfil this mandate had been restricted after it failed to receive a satellite uplink permit needed to ensure its services were available to a majority of islands in the country’s outer atolls.

“Of the four TV broadcasters operating in the Maldives, one is controlled by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), an autonomous body established under law. Though mandated to function independently, the MNBC is believed by opposition parties and independent journalists, to be highly biased towards the government that came to power on February 7, after a police revolt toppled the elected president,” the NGO added. “Of the private channels, two are owned by businessmen with known links to the current regime, according to sources in the Maldives.”


Speaking to Minivan News today, Raaje TV Chairman Akram Kamaaluddin said he expected the government would continue to try and create “hurdles” in an attempt to restrict Raaje TV’s broadcasts even after the group obtained a temporary license this week.

Akram alleged that the channel had already been forced to establish its own independent satellite uplink as the government had been influencing major national telecom operators into not providing technical assistance or services to the broadcaster.

“They have given us this temporary license, but there is no guarantee that they won’t try to interfere with our services in other ways,” he claimed.  Akram added that the establishment of Raaje TV’s independent satellite uplink was designed to try and ensure more stability for its services in the future.

Raaje TV’s management have alleged that the CAM had guaranteed that a license would be awarded to the broadcaster on Sunday (July 1) in relation to an application sent two weeks previous.

Akram maintained that the Ministry of Transport and Communication had acted outside of its jurisdiction and influenced the CAM into not issuing a license on the grounds that its existing policy was under review and an uplink could not therefore be provided until this was complete.

Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News earlier in the week that the allegations of his ministry acting in a politically motivated manner against the broadcaster were a result of Akram “making his own judgement” about the matter.

He therefore maintained that Raaje TV would be given the uplink permit, though was unable to set a date for when it would be made available.

“I spoke with Raaje TV [on July 2] and told them they would be given the license as soon as possible” he said at the time. “I don’t have a time limit for when this will be.”

Shamheed stressed that the process did take time and that the CAM’s Chief Executive, Ilyas Ahmed, had been away until this week, delaying response to the matter.

When contacted today about the concerns raised by the IFJ, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that he welcomed the license being awarded to Raaje TV and stressed the government had no involvement in the issue.

“I am glad that the broadcaster got what they were after,” he said.

With the permit having been awarded, Masood questioned the validity of Raaje TV’s bias allegations.

In addressing these allegations, Masood added that the government had “no involvement” concerning the work of the CAM, which he said was established to operate as an independent body free of government control.

“I don’t know the composition of the CAM is, it is appointed by the parliament,” he said.

Masood added that he was not able to speculate on the possible political affiliations of individuals within an organisation like the CAM.


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.”


IFJ releases South Asian “Press Freedom in Peril” report

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)‘s 2011 ‘Press Freedom in Peril‘ for South Asia has claimed there are “several matters of detail on which discord between journalists and the government is rife” in the Maldives.

The report, produced on behalf of the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) of which the Maldives National Journalists’ Association (MJA) is a member, states that “going beyond the perception-based indexes of press freedom that have put Maldives among the most rapidly improving countries, there are certain difficulties that journalists in the nation continue to face, even if these are not reflected in the broad numerical indexes, which are admittedly of limited value.”

The reports claims that journalists covering opposition demonstrations in October 2010 were been “beaten with batons, some of them shackled and a number briefly detained,” with police claiming that this occurred because “some of the journalists covering the demonstration had started engaging them in a confrontational spirit.”

The report also noted the opposition party had blamed the alleged assaults on journalists on Parliamentary Group Leader of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), “who had, in the weeks preceding the event, made a number of public statements that suggested a deep antipathy towards the media.”

Manik referred to private TV channels in the Maldives as the fruit of ‘ill-gotten’ wealth and vowed to teach them a lesson,” the report claimed.

Subsequent findings from the Maldives Media Council (MMC) had “sought to be all things to all people, calling on journalists to follow a certain code of practice when covering events such as opposition led demonstrations, while at the same time, reprimanding the police for not giving adequate space for the media in their effort to record the protests.”

“Journalists needed to adhere to a certain standard of discipline, and the police needed to provide sufficient leeway for honest journalistic effort,” the report said, citing the MMC.

Attempts to devise a code of ethics and self-regulation for the country’s journalists by the MJA had been derailed by the state-owned media, the report claimed, “which was indifferent to this initiative, [and] which has rendered the code inoperative.”

The report noted a protest in October where four journalists from the private radio station DhiFM “were compelled to undertake a protest against their own employer when it turned out that the management had revealed the identity of a source used for a report on a tourist resort.”

“Irked by the content of the report, the resort management sacked the employee. The journalists who protested against their management’s unethical decision to reveal the identity of a news source, were in turn fired,” the report noted.

The report also highlighted the arrest of two Haveeru journalists in February 2011 “for interrogation” over leaked pornographic videos obtained from a Facebook blackmailing ring, which reportedly included material involved known public figures, and police efforts to obtain a warrant to search the newspaper’s offices, which was not executed.

A consistent concern throughout the year was the government’s decision to remove all government advertising from the media and publish an official gazette, depriving the industry of income, the report noted.

“By limiting the visibility of government advertisements, it has led to fears of bid-rigging and corruption in the award of official contracts. It has also caused considerable financial distress to the independent media,” the report stated.

The Miadhu newspaper had been compelled to move offices as a result of the decision, it claimed.

Read the full report: Free Speech in Peril: Press Freedom in South Asia 2010-11


IFJ expresses concern over police attack on media

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed concern over the police attack on journalists who were covering the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)-led protest last week.

Last week several journalists working at different media outlets claimed they were attacked and forced to move away while they were covering an opposition riot.

“According to the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA), an IFJ affiliate, the journalists were reporting on a protest organised by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party in the national capital of Male,’’ said the IFJ’s statement.

“The MJA has since established that the journalists, most of whom were wearing press badges, were beaten with batons and some of them shackled. A few were briefly detained.’’

“Though the Maldives has significant provisions defending press freedom in its newly enacted constitution, there seems to be a gap between the assurances of the law and the reality faced by journalists on the ground,’’ said the IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

‘’“We fully support the MJA in its effort to ensure that all provisions of the law are made operative and become credible guarantees of press freedom.”

The police claimed that some journalists covering the riot had begun to show the same characteristics as the opposition activists and engaged in hostile confrontations with the police.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said last week that “some journalists opposed police orders and refused to stay in the security zone. It would have gone smoothly if they had worked according to the orders. Some journalists who opposed the police were moved away by using force.’’

He also claimed that journalists had tried to break the police lines and pass through the cordon.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


International Federation of Journalists accepts MJA

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has become an associate member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), giving its members international credibility and recognition as media professionals.

Founded in 1926, the IFJ is the world’s largest journalist organisation with 600,000 members in over 100 countries, and speaks for journalists within the United Nations system. The organisation itself is apolitical but nonetheless promotes human rights, democracy and pluralism. It vehemently condemns the use of media as propaganda or to promote intolerance and conflict.

President of the MJA Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the membership was a “significant achievement” for the rights of the press in the Maldives, and a goal the association had been striving towards for since April last year.

While the membership grants international recognition, ongoing education and development of journalism in the country was still needed, Hiriga explained.

“I know the Faculty of Education is running a course in journalism, but I’ve heard it’s mostly history – I haven’t heard of any experienced specialists teaching there,” he said.

Seeking assistance for the development of Maldivian journalism was one of the requests made by MJA members during a recent trip to the embassies in Colombo.

“We asked for support to help give us training and fund scholarships for Maldivian journalists, but most said they had a tight budget,” Hiriga said.

“They did say they were most concerned about the situation in the Maldives following the recent gang attacks [on media].”

Hiriga said the MJA had also expressed its concerns about indirect oppression of the media “behind the scenes.”

“There is press freedom [in the sense] that the government is so far not directly jailing journalists,” he noted.

In a letter to the MJA, the IFJ said it was pleased to accept the MJA’s membership “and work with it to address the challenges and pressures the Maldives media faces.”

Editor of daily newspaper Miadhu, Abdulla Latheef, said he did not think the IFJ membership would be beneficial for the Maldivian media at-large as “because half [the MJA’s] senior members are from Haveeru [the daily newspaper of which Hiriga is editor].”

Latheef said after gang attacks on television station DhiTV and a Haveeru printery staff member, “the MJA did not even hold a meeting or even check to see whether its members were fine.”

”I believe the organisation is trying to take over the media,” he said. ”I am a member of it, anyway.”