Maldives journalism awards celebrates free press

The first Maldives Journalism Awards took place in Dharubaaruge, Malé last night (May 3). The ceremony presented “Journalist of the Year” awards to journalists working in print and radio in the Maldives.

Fazeena Ahmed, 26, of Haveeru won in the online print category, and Ahmed Naushad, Voice of Maldives, won in the radio journalism category.

Haveeru journalist Ahmed Hamdhoon censured President Abdulla Yameen’s failure to attend the ceremony, saying: “[We] feel we, journalists are not important to the government.”

The event, organized by the Maldives Media Council, selected winners based on discipline, richness of content, adherence to proper journalistic practices, quality of presentation and inclusion of photos and videos.

Winners of the Maldives Journalism Award were selected by an independent panel of judges consisting of Maldives Broadcasting Commission Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik, former Minister of State for Information Thoyyib Mohamed, former Aafathis editors Abdulla Naeem Ibrahim, Mohamed Nazeef and Ahmed Zahir

There was an additional TV journalism category for which seven journalists applied. However, the judges said that none were selected due to lack of material.

Winner of the online journalism category Fazeena has been working at Haveeru for the past five years, and won recognition for her profile of former President Mohamed Nasheed during the presidential election of 2013, and her coverage of the Villingili children’s orphanage.

“I am very happy. Not just because I won the award, but because the Media Council has introduced such an award for the first time. This is a very important step and an encouragement for new journalists,” Fazeena told Minivan News.

She went on to identify access to information as the biggest obstacle to media freedom, and said that she had received threats because of her work.

No government officials present

In an op-ed today, Haveeru journalist Ahmed Hamdhoon expressed disappointment over President Abdulla Yameen and his ministers’ failure to attend the ceremony.

“All those working in the media are deeply saddened by President Yameen’s refusal to attend a landmark ceremony held by an independent state institution’s to recognize and encourage journalists,” wrote Hamdhoon.

Hamdhoon also criticized President Abdulla Yameen’s failure to make a statement on the World Press Freedom Day (May 3).

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said Yameen was unable to attend the ceremony because the invitation –which was delivered a week ahead of the event – came “at the last minute.”

In a statement, Muaz said the government will treat all journalists equally, and pledged to do all possible to protect media in the Maldives. He went to say that the government will enact the Right to Information Act within the period specified in the act.

The government welcomes responsible journalism, and will stop any journalism outside of acceptable borders, or attempts to create chaos or defame individuals, he added.

He recognized threats media has faced over the past two years, including the vandalism at Villa TV, the Raajje TV arson attack, and the murder attempt on Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

Speaking at the event last night, MMC member Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeq identified threats to journalists as a growing problem.

“Threats from public to media outlets are increasing. There have been no efforts to stop this. This is something that all journalists agree,” he said.

A landmark “Threat Analysis Report” carried out by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission last week found that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat. Gangs, religious extremists and parliament placed second while the government were rated third.


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.


Haama editor fined Rf5000 for defaming Yameen

Editor of Haama News Saif Azhar was fined by civil court last Thursday for defaming the character of People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen.

Civil Court Judge Maryam Nihayath ruled that an article published in June last year claiming that Yameen had US$32 million in his HSBC bank account was defamatory.

Saif was fined Rf5000 (US$385), currently the maximum penalty for defamation in the Maldives. Yameen also has lawsuits pending against Ibrahim Waheed, the journalist who wrote the article, the editor of Jazeera Daily Fayyaz Faisal, the owner of Haama Daily (Axis Maldives) and Ahmed Muhsin, the assistant editor of TVM.

Yameen had sought Rf2,570,000 million (US$192,000) for psychological damages and Rf21,775,305 (US$1.67 million) for material damages, claims which were dismissed by the judge.

Azhar said he was not in town when the article was published and had no knowledge of it, claiming that his journalist Ibrahim Waheed had written the piece.

”In the article we mentioned that the source [of the information] was online news website Manadhoolive,” he said, ”but the judge decided that we had not referred to any source.”

He said the same article published in Haama News was also published in the newspaper Haveeru.

President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the association did not support journalists defaming people’s character.

”We do not support journalists writing stories without any evidence or proof,” he said. ”It’s a practice everywhere to fine journalists.”

Secretary General of the PA Ahmed Shareef said the outcome of the case showed that the country was strengthening its judicial service.

”Journalists have to be more responsible and careful when publishing articles,” he said.

Yameen failed to response Minivan News at time of press.

The former editor of weekly magazine Sandhaanu was also recently ordered to pay Rf5000 (US$389) for defaming Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon, the former president’s son.

Ghassan took Abdulla ‘Fahala’ Saeed to the civil court seeking Rf3.375 million (US$262,600) over an article Fahala had written in the 118th edition of Sandhaanu magazine.


Ministry of Health criticises media for misinforming public

The Ministry of Health and Gender has issued a press statement criticising the media for its standards and ethics when reporting on abuse cases, especially those involving children.

Police and the ministry last week confirmed they were investigating a “very serious” case of child abuse, in which which four children were taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) by ministry workers to undergo medical examination.

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali said at the time that all details of the case were being withheld for the protection of the children.

“We have the children’s best interest in mind, and that means we cannot give out any information that might put them in danger,” she said.

The ministry’s statement today claimed that the media had recently written stories misinforming the public “particularly relating to abuse cases”, and criticised the publication of stories “before the ministry releases information [about them]”.

“The media should keep to its professional standards and work to the ethics of journalism, respecting privacy,” the ministry said, referring to article 12 of the the Children’s Law, under which children’s names, ages or addresses should not be made public in the instance of abuse.

President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir claimed that “the media is respectful of these things. It is not appropriate to reveal this information”, but acknowledged that in the past there were instances in which the victim’s father’s or family name has been released to the public, making it easy for the victim to be identified.

“There needs to be a fine balance when dealing with these issues,” Hiriga said, adding that he still believed the public had a right to know about such cases.

He echoed Mohamed Shihaab of Child Abuse Watch Maldives, who last week said that while he understood the authorities’ fear that evidence would be corrupted, or that the families of the abused children would suffer if their identities became known, “the incident needs to be reported. It’s important that the community knows that something like this is happening,” he said.

Ahmed Rilwan, media officer for the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), said the “general viewpoint of the Commission is that there is nothing wrong [with the media reporting these cases].”

“So long as it is done responsibly, the reporting itself is not a problem,” he said.

He added that these cases should be reported without revealing identifying information that could “revictimise the victims”, and agreed that that the media has previously made more information public than it should.

Minivan News’ reporting of the ministry’s statement highlighted some of the difficulties faced by the media in obtaining accurate and timely information from ministries and organisations.

Media Coordinator for the Ministry of Health and Family, Yasir Salih, refused to comment on the ministry’s press statement, saying he is “not supposed to talk on behalf of the Ministry.” He added that he “directs people to relevant departments and officials” but is not supposed to give information.

According to Yasir, “sometimes our officials are busy and unable to give interviews and comments.”

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali did not respond to requests for comment at of time of publication.

Senior Social Service Officer at the Department of Gender, Fathimath Runa, said she would not be able to speak on the issue until she was “better informed on the issue”, but had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.

President of Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said he was not the appropriate person to talk to concerning the question on whether or not the media should report child abuse cases.

Hiriga said he believed the ministries and government institutions should implement “proper mechanisms to regulate information” which is released to the media, in a bid to prevent confusion and misinformation being leaked from other sources.

“Various ministries are trying to influence the media,” he suggested. “They have no right to intervene.”