New public media company is ‘a state mouthpiece’

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the new public service media law as an attack on press freedom with the creation of a “state mouthpiece.”

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation, which operated the state television and radio stations, was dissolved last week after President Abdulla Yameen ratified the Public Service Media Act, which replaced the state-owned corporation with a new state media company.

“The Maldivian media have faced a number of challenges from the government in recent months and this Act is another attempt by the Yameen government to control critics,” the IFJ said in a statement.

“The concept of the public broadcaster is to ensure balanced and ethical reporting in the public interest, however with the government controlling this, it will only serve as a propaganda tool.”

The IFJ’s local affiliate, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), said the law is “not in line with best practices and fundamentals of a public service broadcasting or media” and accused the government of seizing control of public service broadcasting.

“MJA believes the Maldives has gone back to the 80s and we condemn the controlling of media, especially the removal of public service broadcasting in the country,” the association said.

The pro-government majority parliament passed public service media (PSM) bill on Monday amidst protests by opposition MPs and approved the president’s seven nominees to the PSM governing board on Thursday without conducting interviews.

At the first meeting of the public service media governing board, Ibrahim Umar Manik was elected chairperson and former VTV CEO Ibrahim Khaleel was made managing director.

Manik told Minivan News last week that the law was a “positive move” that will improve the public broadcaster. Manik was also chairman of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s board.

“We were not influenced before and I am very confident that we will not be influenced by the government in the future as well,” he said.

Ibrahim Hilmy was meanwhile elected vice chairperson of PSM and former VTV presenter Mohamed Ikram and Aminath Shayan Shahid were appointed deputy managing directors.

During last week’s parliamentary debate, ruling party MP Riyaz Rasheed said one of the reasons the government had to form a new state media company was because the previous state broadcaster provided live coverage of an underwater protest calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

However, TVM had not covered the event.

Riyaz also criticised the state broadcaster for not providing enough coverage of the government’s development projects, the president’s overseas trips, and state ceremonies.

Government officials were only invited to programmes because opposition politicians were refusing to appear, he claimed.

The new law also requires the state to distribute a printed daily newspaper and use social media to disseminate programmes.

The PSM board said in a statement on Thursday that Television Maldives (TVM) and the radio station Dhivehi Raajjege Adu will retain its brand names until the board decides otherwise.

The state broadcaster will also follow the former corporation’s policies until new policies are formulated, it added.

Parliament approved a monthly salary of MVR25,000 for the managing director in addition to an MVR15,000 living allowance and an MVR1,000 phone allowance. The chairperson and vice chairperson will receive MVR15,000 and MVR13,000, respectively, as living allowance, while other members will receive MVR10,000.


State broadcaster refuses to air campaign ad depicting police brutality

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has refused to air a campaign ad from opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz Fahmy allegedly on the grounds that it depicted police brutality.

The MDP issued a press statement today strongly condemning the move, contending that state broadcaster’s refusal was a deliberate obstruction of both Imthiyaz’s campaign and the right to free expression as well as an attempt to hide police brutality and silence voices against brutality.

The party also expressed surprise with the MBC’s decision as one of the photos featured in the campaign ad showed police pepper spraying a cameraman, noting that the Maldives has dropped in international press freedom indexes.


MBC cancels presidential debate between run-off candidates

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has announced that it has cancelled the scheduled presidential debate between the two candidates competing in the run-off election of the presidential election, which had originally been scheduled to take place next Monday night.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s candidate Mohamed Nasheed will face Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen in the run-off vote on September 28.

Former President Nasheed won 45.45 percent of the popular vote or 95,224 votes while PPM Candidate Yameen came second with 53,099 votes.  The Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim secured 50,422 votes to finish the race in third position while incumbent President Mohamed Waheed finished at the bottom with 10,750 votes – 5.13 percent of the popular vote.

In a press statement released on Sunday, the state broadcaster announced that the debate had to be called off after Nasheed’s office had informed them that it was very difficult for the former president to give time for the debate while campaigning.

The statement also said that the PPM had informed the MBC that Yameen was prepared to take part in the debate.

“Therefore, it is with great sadness to announce that the MBC and the Maldives National University will not be able to hold a presidential debate between two candidates who are contesting in the run-off elections,” read the statement.

According to the MBC, the debate had been fashioned to ask questions on areas such as the economy and health care, and the candidates would be given the opportunity to explain their policies on each subject.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that the MBC had informed the parties that there was to be a debate with just two days’s notice. Such a short period of time, Ghafoor said, was not adequate for the party prepare for such a serious debate.

“For a large democratic political party such as ours, we simply cannot go over there and speak anything. It requires preparation, committee meetings within the party. We don’t want to go there unprepared,” Ghafoor told Minivan News.

He added that even for the previous debates, two of the party’s permanent committees had jointly worked in preparation for the debate.

“This is what happens when [debate organisers] seriously lack the understanding of how things work in a democratic culture. They should be more organised than this,” he said.

The MBC successfully hosted two national debates – one, with all presidential candidates and the other with all the running mates.

During each debate, moderator Heena Waleed posed questions to the participants on areas concerning education, health and economy, development and social protection. The MBC claimed that the questions were based on a survey done by the Maldives National University (MNU) on citizens’ concerns.

The run-off is scheduled for September 28, though subject to an ongoing Supreme Court case filed by the JP against the Elections Commission requesting the court to annul the first round in which the party placed third.


Police arrest GIP council member Ahmed Faiz in Supreme Court Justice sex tape scandal

A council member of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP) and Project Advisor at the Housing Ministry, Ahmed Faiz, has been arrested and placed under remand detention for 15 days, police have confirmed.

According to local media reports, the former Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Managing Director and Deputy CEO of the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) was arrested on Tuesday while trying to sell a sex tape of a Supreme Court Justice.

The Criminal Court on Wednesday afternoon (June 26) granted an extension of 15 days for Faiz’s detention.

A police media official told Minivan News that police could not divulge further details apart from confirming that Faiz was “arrested in connection with a case currently under investigation.”

While local media reports did not identify the judge involved in the case, photos of Supreme Justice Ali Hameed in a hotel room with a woman began circulating on social media in March this year.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News today that Faiz has been sacked from his project advisor post at the Housing Ministry, to which he was appointed at the deputy minister-level in March 2012.

Masood Imad also confirmed that Faiz is a member of GIP’s executive council.

Faiz was also the GIP representative at press conferences of the unofficial “December 23 coalition” of eight political parties that organised a mass gathering in 2011 against the allegedly anti-Islamic policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Faiz was present at a press event of the December 23 alliance on January 8, 2012 where the group announced plans for a “mass symposium” for February 24, 2012. He was also present when opposition leaders met then-Vice President Dr Waheed in his official residence at 1:00am on January 31 – seven days before the controversial transfer of presidential power – and pledged their allegiance to the vice-president.

Faiz participated in the press conference later that night when opposition party leaders called on the police and army to pledge allegiance to Dr Waheed and “not carry out any orders given by President Nasheed.”

In August 2012, an audio clip of Faiz in conversation with a group of unidentified men was aired on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV after it was leaked on social media.

Faiz told Minivan News at the time that the clip was authentic and recorded in March 2012 but claimed that it was cut and edited together.

In the 15-minute audio, Faiz boasts of his influence within the government as a “close confidante” of President Waheed and attempts to hire the men to disrupt activities of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Faiz claimed in the leaked audio that he was in a position to embezzle large amounts of money from MBC and the State Trading Organisation (STO).

He also spoke of President Waheed’s reluctance to remain allied with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and of plans to “take Maumoon out of the political picture.”

The truth is that there is quite a lot of support for Maumoon too, and we have to accept that. If a political gathering is to be held in this country, at this moment it’s only PPM or MDP that can gather a good amount of people. No one else can do it, ok? This is the political reality of now,” Faiz is heard saying.

GIP Faiz“We are not at all aiming to keep them close to us. The real objective is to destroy this… thing… that Maumoon has. This cannot be done by even Anni, or by anyone else in this country, unless we stay within them, and let them into the government. There is simply no other way. Now I’ve gone and said something I was not meaning to share! I have just shared with you a huge secret.”

Faiz also claimed in the leaked conversation that he was “the biggest key” for the transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

All that was done, all the deals that were made, all that was done, all the people that we met with, within defense, even within police; nothing would have taken place without my knowledge, without my participation,” he is heard saying in a second clip.

“If this is a coup government and there is a death sentence given out, I will be among the first to be sentenced to death. So what even I want is money, do you understand? I’m telling you the truth, it is to gain money that I have come into this.”

First audio clip

Second audio clip


MBC to request staff salary increase

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) will propose a salary increase for all of its members to parliament this year, MBC Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik has said.

Speaking to local media, Manik said that the request for an increase in salary had been made as MBC members were not allowed to be employed elsewhere.

“The law states that the corporation should be free of all political and financial influence and influence from affluent persons. Only then can the corporation be independent,” Manik told local media.

Manik stated that the corporation is accountable to the parliament independent institutions committee, and that a request is to be made from the committee to increase staff salary.

“We are not necessarily demanding that the salaries are the same level as independent institutions and commission member salaries,” he was reported as telling the Sun Online news service.

“We informed the Public Accounts Committee of the difficulties we face because we are not allowed to be employed elsewhere, and requested that our salaries be increased. We sent this in writing, and they did not think it was necessary to do this [increase salaries]. But we will request again.”

The current salary for MBC members, as reported in local media, stands at MVR 10,0000. However, the salary of Maldives Media Council’s Board Members is just MVR 5,000.

Last year, the salary of Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) board members was increased from MVR 10,500 to MVR 15,500 following a new salary structure passed by parliament, Sun Online revealed.


Maldives Broadcasting Corporation board member signs for PPM

Nahla Ali, a board member of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), has signed for the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), local media has reported.

In a signing ceremony reported to have been overseen by PPM Interim Leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Nahla handed over 100 membership forms for the party during her signing ceremony, according to the Sun Online news service.

PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf was not responding to calls by Minivan News at the time of press.

However, speaking during the signing ceremony, Mahlouf told local media that the signature of the MBC board member, who holds a master’s degree in political science, was “a great leap” for the coalition party.

Back in April, MBC announced it was temporarily halting all political programming on state media outlets, amidst debate over the need for more independent and informative public broadcasting.