Handover of state broadcaster “best decision I’ve made”: President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan today said the handing of the state broadcaster to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was the “best decision I’ve made”.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military officers storming the state broadcaster’s compound prior to President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, using a firearm or some kind of explosive to break down the gates.

Nasheed subsequently claimed he was forced to resign “under duress” in a coup d’état orchestrated by remnants of the former dictatorship, and carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military.

Speaking at an event to mark World Press Freedom Day, Dr Waheed claimed the handing of the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) to the parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) had ended executive control of the media.

Nasheed had refused to hand control of state broadcasting to MBC claiming the then-opposition controlled-Majlis had appointed their supporters to the MBC board in “a media coup.”

Dr Waheed also announced today that the government would resume commercial advertising in privately-owned newspapers, marking a return to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s policy of effectively subsidising private newspapers through government advertisements.

Advertising an “incentive” for newspapers

Ousted President Mohamed Nasheed ended the policy in 2008 and shifted government announcements to a free weekly in-house gazette, claiming the move saved Rf 32 million (US$2,077,922) annually.

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) had campaigned against Nasheed’s decision, claiming the move had bankrupted news outlets and led to the closure of several newspapers.

Speaking to the press at a function held to mark International Press Freedom Day, Waheed said, “I want to open up government advertisements instead of publishing them solely in the government gazette even today. I think that will help the newspapers”.

MJA President ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir also spoke at the function held at the President’s Office, and said government advertising had provided “an incentive” for newspapers.

“I am not calling for the gazette to be annulled. But I don’t believe announcements for jobs and tenders should come through this gazette,” he said.

Handover to MBC

Under Nasheed’s administration, the MBC and the MNBC were engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for the control of state broadcasting assets.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military firing an explosive device to open MNBC gates. MNBC staff told Minivan News the security forces cut off MNBC coverage and ordered the station to air private Villa TV station’s live feed.

Former MNBC Managing Director Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that President Waheed’s younger brother Ali Waheed had ordered the handover of MNBC to him on the orders of then VP Waheed. After Shareef refused, Ali Waheed led the military takeover of the MNBC.

Shortly after President Waheed took office, he signed over state media to the MBC. He told reporters today that the “best decision I’ve made was handing over TV and Radio to MBC.”

“The executive does not own any TV or radio stations any longer. I think this is the first time in Maldivian history that the executive does not control radio, TV or newspapers. I met with the MBC board within my first week in office. Even among all the stress and turmoil, I ensured the handover of state radio and TV to MBC as stipulated by law,” Waheed said.

Waheed said the handover of state assets to MBC ensured independence for the media as the government no longer controlled the media. “Today, the executive does not want to try and make the government’s view to be the truth,” he said.

“I believe freedom of expression exists in the Maldives to its widest extent today,” Waheed added.

However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the MBC of “blatant propaganda”, alleging the station produced biased content and did not give adequate exposure to all political parties.

Meanwhile, MBC has announced a temporary halt to all political programming until the TV and radio stations better understood their public service role and could provide “intellectually debatable programs”.

Former President Nasheed held a parallel press freedom lunch for journalists and MPs at Traders Hotel.