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


MJA calls for end to protests outside media organisations

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has expressed concern that protesting outside media organisations ”to threaten interviews” was becoming common and has warned that it might cause the media to back down from coverage.

”Under the constitution, every citizen is guaranteed the two fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” the MJA said in a statement. ”MJA calls on people not to misuse these fundamental rights by threatening and intimidating interviewees for a political gain.”

The MJA claimed that every time a person arrived for an interview at a media outlet, “he has to be taken home under police protection.”

Protesters recently gathered near private television station Villa TV (VTV) when Imad Solih of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) entered the studio for an interview regarding its successful Civil Court bid to overturn the President’s declaration that Addu was to become a city.

”The tendency of protesting outside media organisations has now gone to an extreme level in which the medias is prevented from performing its responsibility to make the government accountable,” the statement said. ”MJA wants to note that recently such two protests were organised outside VTV station, and earlier protests were also held outside DhiTV station and MNBC One.”

The organisation suggested that expressing opinion in the media and responding to opinions people disagreed with through the media would be “much more fair and diplomatic” than protesting.

”As with freedom of expression, we recognise that freedom of assembly is a fundamental right,” the MJA said. ”But we call for an environment safeguarding both these fundamental rights at the same time.”


Parliament’s General Committee condemns MJA

Parliament’s General Committee has condemned the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) for issuing a statement claiming it had attempted to threaten journalists.

The General Committee of the parliament said that it had summoned journalists from private broadcasting channels VTV and DhiTV recently, but rejected claims it had threatened reporters.

In a statement issued on Monday December 27, the General Committee’s chair, MP Nazim Rashad, said that the journalists in question were summoned regarding a complaint made by an MP over allegations they had edited video footage and broadcast it in a manner that would smear the member in question.

”Obstructing independent media in the country in any way, along with allegations that this committee attempted to make the media back-down is not acceptable by this committee or by the honourable MPs of the parliament,” the statement said. ”But it is the responsibility of the committee members to fulfill their responsibility at their level best under the Parliament rules of regulation.”

The statement added that issuing a claim to obstruct the work of the committee was against the constitution as well as being very irresponsible.

”We call on everyone not to obstruct the work of the parliament and its committees when investigating such cases,” the statement said. ”Parliament is one pillar of the state which enact laws, elects appointees for independent commissions and listens to the complaints of the media and independent [organisations] to protect the rights of its citizens. Therefore, we remind no one to conduct any action that will disregard the sanctity and honour of parliament.”

The MJA said in a statement that it believed the parliamentary General Committee had attempted to narrow press freedom by threatening and pressuring journalists.

The association added that using edited video footage is not against the ethics of journalism and that the full responsibility of what was said in the footage should be taken by the person who said it.


Maldives makes “solid gains” in press freedom: Reporters Without Borders

  • The Maldives has made “solid gains” towards press freedom according to the Reporters Without Borders 2010 Press Freedom Index, although its ranking has slipped from 51 to 52.

    “As a rule, the authorities have been respectful of press freedoms, exemplified by their decriminalisation of press offences in the Maldives,” the report stated.

    The ranking places the Maldives at the top of the South Asian countries for press freedom, and among the most free in Asia behind Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

    The Maldives was ranked 129 in 2007, jumping to 104 in 2008 and 51 in 2009 following the election of President Mohamed Nasheed.

    France, the home of RWB (Reporters Sans Frontières) ranked 44, while regionally, India (122), Bangladesh (126) and Sri Lanka (158) were ranked far below the Maldives.

    “Less violence was noted [in Sri Lanka], yet the media’s ability to challenge the authorities has tended to weaken with the exile of dozens of journalists,” the RWB report stated.

    Scandinavian countries including Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were ranked first, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were ranked last.

    The RWB report was damning of Asia-Pacific’s overall performance, particularly across communist and military regimes, while democratic countries such as Japan (11) and Australia (18) fared far better. However “Malaysia (141), Singapore (136) and East Timor (93) are down this year.”

    “In Afghanistan (147th) and in Pakistan (151st), Islamist groups bear much of the responsibility
    for their country’s pitifully low ranking. Suicide bombings and abductions make working as a journalist an increasingly dangerous occupation in this area of South Asia,” the report noted.

    “In short, repression has not diminished in ASEAN countries, despite the recent adoption of a human rights charter.”

    The RWB report focuses on state repression of the media and threat to the safety of journalists, and not the condition of a country’s media industry itself.

    Visiting journalism trainer Tiare Rath, Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) recently identified that political partisanship among senior editorial leadership in the Maldives was obstructing the development of a free and independent media – often despite the good intentions of rank-and-file journalists.

  • “I have been really impressed with news judgement here, and the understanding of the basic principles of journalism,” Rath said of her experience training young reporters in the Maldives.

    “But on the other hand, one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers. Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” she said.

    “This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”


    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.”


    MJA criticises MDP for not allowing pluralism in the media

    The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has criticised the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) after opposition-leaning DhiTV cameras were not allowed to cover an MDP general meeting, reports Miadhu.

    The MDP meeting was being held at Lale International School in Hulhumalé, where DhiTV journalists were forced to leave the meeting.

    “It is worrying that ruling party members do not understand that pluralism is the essence of democracy,” said the MJA, adding that “such threats against the independence and diversity of the media only serve to blatantly expose the lack of democratic credentials in senior ruling party members.”

    The MJA also expressed concern over the intimidation of private media by MDP senior officials.

    The MJA condemed “all such acts by ruling party officials and members against democracy and press freedom in Maldives.”