Broadcasting Commission condemns barring of Raajje TV crew from government press room

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission has condemned an incident on Thursday where a crew from private broadcaster Raajje TV was forced out of a press conference by Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

The commission said it has written to both the President’s Office and Islamic Ministry seeking clarification “at the earliest possible opportunity”, following media reports that the station’s crew was forced out from the Velaanage press room on orders from the President’s Office.

“The commission believes that regardless of whomever it is committed by, such acts hinder the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and [the commission] condemns it,” reads the letter from the commission.

“The commission also believes that all state institutions must provide equal opportunity for media in a free and democratic environment.”

Article 28 of the constitution states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

Moreover, article 29 states, “Everyone has the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

The letter from the Broadcasting Commission noted that the President’s Office had previously assured that it was “the government’s policy to continually provide all information that it is legally obliged to provide to all parties”.

The statement was made in a reply to the commission on August 28 after it had written to the President’s Office regarding media reports claiming that the government was refusing to provide information to Raajje TV.

Government Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.

Riza however told newspaper Haveeru on Thursday that Raajje TV crew had repeatedly breached codes of conduct inside the President’s Office.

The spokesperson said that the President’s Office would not allow to “do as it pleases.”

The local daily reported that during his press conference Islamic Minister Shaheem had asked a President’s Office employee at the press room if the Raajje TV crew had been expelled.

When the staff confirmed that it was done on orders from the President’s Office, Shaheem reportedly told the employee not to refuse entry to any media crew to an Islamic Ministry press conference without his approval.

“The Islamic Ministry does not have any problems with any TV [station] in the country. I am asking because I’m the one who has to answer for this. I just got an SMS asking me why I forced them out. I didn’t. I thought they left because it was our office,” Shaheem reportedly said after his exchange with the President’s Office staff.

Invitations only

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News that Raajje TV has not faced any “obstruction” from the Islamic Ministry.

“But the press room at Velaanage is managed by staff from the President’s Office,” he explained. “When our crew went to the press conference, [the President’s Office staff] said Raajje TV was not invited and told them to get out.”

Media officials from the President’s Office also refused entry to a Raajje TV crew to a press conference later in the day by the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL), Yamin said.

“But MPL senior officials said they would provide us any information and invite us to their press conferences and events,” he said. “So this issue is between Raajje TV and the President’s Office media staff.”

Yamin added that he was told by President’s Advisor on Political Affairs Ahmed Thaufeeq ‘Topy’ that he was unaware of the apparent non-cooperation policy, suggesting a “difference of opinion within the President’s Office concerning Raajje TV.”

Attempts to contact President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were unsuccessful, Yamin said.

In September, Raajje TV sued the President’s Office at the Civil Court for effectively boycotting the station from press conferences and official functions.

Yamin told Minivan News at the time that “the whole issue began with the government’s Media Secretary Masood Imad excluding RaajjeTV in all invitations to media to cover their press events.”

“Initially, Abbas Adil Riza held a different opinion. But then it became a norm for the government to block us from events, even refusing access and turning us away when we took the initiative to find out about events and attempt to cover them with or without invitation.”

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) released a statement at the time stating that it would neither encourage nor accept the boycotting of any media outlet by either state institutions or political parties

Raajje TV had also filed a lawsuit against the Maldives Police Service (MPS) at the Civil Court, following their decision to not to cooperate with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned TV station.

The station had earlier accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

The lawsuit followed an announcement by the police claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about police, which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

Yamin said today that the cases were ongoing at the Civil Court.

In previous hearings, Yamin said, the government argued that it was within its rights or discretion not to invite certain media to press conferences and events.

“But what we are saying is that it is a constitutional right of media to gather information and we are ready to fight for that right,” he said.


Raajje TV service terminated after intruders break in, cut control room cables

Private broadcaster Raajje TV had its service terminated across the Maldives after intruders broke into the station and cut critical cables in the control room early this morning.

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News that the cables had were vandalised some time between 7:00am and 8:00am.

“We suspect that the attack was by a person who knows this place and the functioning of Raajje TV very well,” Yamin said. “It has caused us millions of rufiya in damage because we have lost our reputation in front of our sponsors.”

Yamin said that the cables will cost more than Rf 100,000 (US$6666) to replace, and that it will take two days before the station can resume broadcasting.

“They shut down the electricity for the whole building which caused our electric lock systems to fail,” he said. “We suspect that either the culprit knows this place very well, or that this was done with the cooperation from a person who knew the place very well.’’

Yamin said the case was reported to police this morning.

‘’Police officers came over today but we have not heard from them since,’’ he added.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation has condemned the attack on Raajje TV and has said that the intention of the attack was to obstruct the freedom of speech and journalism.

The Commission called on police to conduct an investigation into the case at a fast speed, and also called on police to withdraw an earlier decision to stop cooperating with Raajje TV.

On July 24, the police announced they would stop cooperating with Raajje TV, claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about the police which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

The decision came just a day after Raajje TV broadcasted CCTV video footage of some police officers, who the station alleged were “caught on video” while they were stealing petrol from a motorbike parked in a small road in Male’.

Raajje TV also recently aired footage of police pepper-spraying former President Mohamed Nasheed during a protest rally, an act which attracted widespread criticism from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and international groups.

Police in a statement had denied pepper-spraying the former President, and urged the MDP “to publish statements responsibly.”


Applications opened for Broadcasting Commission board role

Applications were opened today to fill a position on the Maldives Broadcasting Commission’s (MBC’s) Board of Directors.

The President’s Office has said it will be accepting applications for the position until August 15. An application form and declaration can be found on the President’s Office website.


Police ‘cut off’ support and protection to Raajje TV over broadcasting of “false” CCTV

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has announced that it has stopped cooperating with local TV station Raajje TV, claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about the police which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

In a press statement released today, MPS stated that the decision was reached after the station had “deliberately and continuously broadcast false and baseless content with the intention to incite hatred” towards the institution.

“Also, Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit in with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries,” read the statement.

Speaking to Minivan News, a reporter from Raajje TV said that prior to the decision police had already indicated yesterday that they were not willing to cooperate with the Raajje TV reporters.

The reporter said that the station had tried to cover the arrival of the body of murdered police officer lance corporal Adam Haleem to Male, however had pushed the reporters back and told them “it was not a wise thing to come there.”

“A police official came over to us and said that it was not a wise thing to come there. The person said that the police officers were in a very ‘hyper’ mood and that anything could happen at such time,” said the reporter.

“They told us that if something ‘bad’ happened there, the police would not be able to protect us. Then another officer came and said to the officer who spoke to us, to check if we had press cards and to move those who did not have press cards out of the area,” he added.

“Caught on video”

The decision from the police comes just a day after Raajje TV broadcasted CCTV video footage of some police officers, who the station alleged were “caught on video” while they were stealing petrol from a motorbike parked in a small road in Male’.

However police denied the allegations and condemned Raajje TV for spreading “false and untrue” information about them.

Superintendent of Police Abdulla Navaz in a press briefing stated that the video footage was showing the police carrying out their legal duty.

Raajje TV had twisted the details and information in their news report, which Navaz said showed police confiscating a five litre container of petrol from the road.

He also stated that the container was confiscated after police on patrol duty noticed that someone had connected a pipe to steal petrol from a parked motorbike in the road.

“It was decided that we would find the owner of the motor bike and hand over the things that were confiscated. The petrol container is also kept under police observation as evidence,” he said.

Navaz showed the media documents filed during the confiscation.

In the press briefing he expressed concerns over Raajje TV’s “irresponsible” actions and said that the police would file complaints with concerned authorities.

Demand for apology

Following the broadcast of the video, Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to the TV station stating that it had broadcasted the content without checking its authenticity and were therefore ordered to apologise for their actions.

MBC in the letter stated that following the broadcasting of the video police had denied the allegation and released details of the incident, but said the station had failed to inform the public of their erroneous content.

“Therefore, news that was broadcast from July 22 onwards, alleging that the police had stolen petrol from a motorbike is untrue. This commission orders the station to broadcast a statement apologising for the publication, for three consecutive nights starting from July 24, after every news hour,” read the letter.

MBC also issued a warning in the letter stating that if the commission noticed any further violations of the broadcasting laws and regulations, they would take action against the station under the article 49(c) of the Broadcasting Act.

MBC also stated that the station had repeatedly violated the broadcasting laws, regulations and ethics code, during its coverage of the ongoing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protests.

The commission stated that because of the coverage, it had given rise to possible political instability and chaos in the society, and said the commission had received “several complaints about it”.

MBC in the letter highlighted that it had sent written advice to the station on July 12, and had met with the management of the station on July 17 and had advised it to broadcast content within legal boundaries.

Deputy CEO of RaajjeTV, Abdulla Yaamin, told local media that the station had no intention of undermining the reputation of the police.

He also stated that the station had broadcast the entire recording of the police press briefing held to deny the allegations, giving them the opportunity to defend themselves from the allegations.

He also stated that police were very unresponsive to the queries of reporters from the station.

“They don’t give a proper response when we call to get a comment for a news piece. Even today, when our reporters went to cover the events where the murdered police officer was brought in Male, they sent us away saying that they cannot give us protection,” he said.

He also said the station would decide how to proceed after seeking legal counsel.

Speaking to Minivan News, Yamin confirmed the incident took place and said that the station would release a statement.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters of the country and is the only opposition-aligned TV station the country. The TV station has come under pressure and criticism from the government and political parties aligned to government for its opposition coverage.

Most recently, the station aired footage of police apparently pepper-spraying former President Mohamed Nasheed during a protest rally on July 14, after police had issued a statement denying that the incident had occurred.

Earlier in May, Yamin accused the security forces of “physical and psychological intimidation” to the reporters of the station during a by deposed President Mohamed Nasheed to mark International Press Freedom Day.

He said the station had operated with freedom and “without any fear” before the change of power on February 7.

Since the transfer of power Raajje TV reporters have experienced physical attacks and have been threatened by security forces, Yamin said. Further, he said ministers of the current administration had refused to engage with the station.

“I have no certainty I can safely go home after saying this here,” Yamin said at the time.

The TV station first went on air as “Future TV” in 2008, but started broadcasting as “Raajje TV” in 2011. Its audience increased dramatically following the takeover of the state broadcaster by the police and military on February 7.


Maldives Broadcasting Commission issues TV and Radio frequencies

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission today awarded broadcasting frequencies to three television stations and four radio stations.

Pictureland Fm Pvt Ltd (Sun Fm), Island Broadcasting Company (VTV) and Broadcasting Maldives Pvt Ltd (DhiTV) won bids for television broadcasting licences while Raajje Television Pvt Ltd (RaajjeTV) and Next Plan Pvt Ltd lost the bids.

Radio frequencies will be given to Island Broadcasting Company, Pictureland Fm, Asna Maldives Pvt Ltd and Faraway Holidays Pvt Ltd.


Communication Minister’s comment on withdrawing broadcasting licences “just advice”

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) have raised concerns over an alleged “threat” to the media from Minister of Transport and Communication Adhil Saleem, after he claimed that the broadcasting licence of media stations “misleading the public” would be revoked.

Adhil reportedly made the remarks during a meeting on Thursday with members of MBC, the broadcast media’s regulatory body.

Following the meeting, MBC held a press conference in which the commission President Badr Naseer contended that the commission legally reserves the right to suspend or renew a licence while according to section 44 of broadcasting commission courts hold the right to revoke a licence given to a media station.

Therefore, he argued, Minister Adhil’s threat “does not have any legal weight”.

He also said that the commission is deeply concerned by the “continous threats faced by the media despite the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under section 27, 28 of the constitution.”

Meanwhile, in a statement released by the MJA, the association condemned Adhil Saleem for “threatening to revoke the licence”.

The government is influencing the role of free media, and continuously attempting to defame some media organisation, the statement reads.

MJA also reiterated that it was the responsibility of the MBC and media council to monitor and take action against organisations breaching editorial policy and laws, not the government.

However, speaking to Minivan News today, Minister Adhil refuted the allegations.

“I did not threaten the media. It was just advice,” Adhil explained.

Adhil said that he met with the MBC members to notify them some of the TV stations covering the protest last night aired recorded content describing it as live events.

“I was watching the TV last night. What they showed was a mix. They showed recordings of yesterday and earlier protests with the live caption on-screen,” he alleged.

The stations must remove the live caption from screen if the telecasted events are not live, Adil argued, “otherwise it is misleading the public”

“I told [MBC] that as the governing body I expected the seven members – who are highly paid by the state – to monitor the situation, even if they don’t have the necessary means,” Adil said.

“If for whatever reason the regulatory body fails to monitor the situation, I said I will withhold the licence,” Adil said.

Speaking to Minivan News, senior officials from VTV and DhiTV insisted that the channels did not broadcast any “manipulated content” to deceive the public.

They also argued that using previous footage of interviews and scenes during live coverage was not something new, and was widely practiced in the international media.


Broadcasting Commission reprimands DhiFM’s use of “indecent language”

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has reprimanded private broadcaster DhiFM for repeated use of “indecent language” during programmes aired by the radio station and simultaneously broadcast live by sister network DhiTV in its “visual radio” segment.

In a press statement released last week, the commission said that it has advised DhiFM to strengthen its editorial policy and comply with the broadcasting agreement.

MBC noted that all broadcasters had a responsibility to ensure that its content was in accordance with provisions of the broadcast license agreement and did not contain language that could be considered offensive.

However, the commission did not specify the kind of language featured in the radio station’s live programming.

“Broadcast content should not include any words, gestures or actions that does not fit social norms of conduct,” the MBC statement noted.

It added that the commission has recently met broadcasters to discuss legal measures that could be taken for violations of the broadcasting agreement.

Deputy CEO of DhiFM Mohamed Jinah told Minivan News that the MBC’s statement was made regarding remarks by a caller during a live program called “Morning Edition.”

“He made comments about the President, and that same day we officially informed the commission and the police about this incident,” Jinah explained. “We do not tolerate that kind of behaviour and we will never encourage it.”

Jinah noted that last week a popular local TV station broadcast video footage of MPs using objectionable language.

“But the commission does not seem to have seen or heard that,” he said. “It’s very unfair that the commission has not said anything about it. Before broadcasting any material, the broadcaster has to check the content, it is a responsibility of the TV station.”

Jihan revealed that the police were currently investigating the case.