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.


Broadcasting Commission cannot regulate way in which Supreme Court is addressed

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has told the Supreme Court that asking media to write the names of persons in a specific way is against international best practice.

The commission’s letter was sent to the Supreme Court on Sunday (March 16) in response to a court request for MBC to enforce strict rules on how Supreme Court judges must be addressed in the media.

It was also pointed out to the court that the commission is mandated with regulating broadcast media alone.

MBC claims to have received a letter suggesting that the court’s justices were being addressed in ways other than how they should be, requesting that the commission inform all media outlets on the appropriate manner in which to write the names of the Supreme Court bench.

An official at MBC told Minivan News that the letter stipulated the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz’s was to be preceded by the title ‘Chief Justice of the Maldives Honorable Al Ustaz’, the title ‘Justice Honorable Dr’ should be used for Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, and ‘Justice Honorable Al Ustaz’ for the rest of the bench.

MBC’s reply to the court – signed by the commission President Mohamed Shaheeb – stated that it was not within the commission’s mandate to dictate the content of any station, and that broadcasters were free to work in accordance to their own editorial guidelines in such matters.

The commission highlighted that it does only what is mandated by the Broadcasting Act and regulations, and that it ensures that all licensed broadcasters abide by the code of conduct formulated by the commission.

The Maldives Media Council – established under the Maldives Media Council Act – is mandated with establishing and maintaining a code of conduct for journalists in the country. Minivan News has learned that the council has yet to be approached by court on this matter.

Meanwhile, the Maldives Journalists Association President Ahmed ‘Hirigaa’ Zahir has said that the association is also of the view that journalists should not be forced to use names of anyone in a specific way.

“Anyone can request the media to use write their name how they want it to be written. But it should not be a requirement. Media reports in simple language,” said Zahir.

“While members of parliament are addressed as ‘honorable member’ in the parliament or justices are addressed in a specific way within the courtroom, it does not have to be the case in reporting or speaking in general public.”


MMC presidency vacant once more

The recently elected President of the Maldives Media Council Abdulla Muaz has been removed from the position after fellow council members ruled that his selection had not followed due process.

Local media outlet Sun Online reports that the council felt one of the rival candidates for the post had not been afforded the mandatory 72 hours for campaigning, as he had been abroad when nominated for the position.

Both Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeg and Midhath Adam had contested for the post alongside Muaz.

The position of president of the council became vacant on February 9 of the council, when Husham Mohamed resigned after saying the council did not have adequate legal authority to fulfil its mandate.

The fifteen member council consists of 8 members from the public and 7 from the media. It is tasked with ensuring freedom of media and enforcing ethical guidelines.


Abdulla Muaz appointed president of media council

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) members have appointed Abdulla Muaz as their new president.

The former president of the council, Husham Mohamed, resigned on 9 February after saying that the council did not have adequate legal authority.

The MMC website stated that Muaz received six votes from the council while the one of the other two candidates got five votes.

In July 18, 2012 MPs voted 53-1 against a recommendation by the Finance Committee to dissolve the MMC and transfer its mandate to the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.


Corruption case against former media council members continues

The Anti-Corruption Commission has forwarded the cases of seven former members of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) accused of ignoring a directive to return allowances deemed illegal, local media has reported.

Sun Online has reported that charged are being pursued against a total of 10 former MMC members.

A 2011 Auditor General’s report revealed that members took almost Rf 900,000 in additional allowances – fees which the MMC subsequently asked to be returned.

The report stated that the living allowance was an illegal expense, despite parliament having approved the MMC’s budget which included the allowance. It was noted that the MMC had behaved inappropriately for an institution that was required by nature to have the trust and confidence of the public.

The following year’s audit report revealed that 13 of the MMC’s members had failed to return the MVR7,500 (US$478).

A recent survey conducted by local NGO Transparency Maldives revealed that only 12 percent of those interviewed believed public officials and civil servants to be free from corruption.


Media Council slams Defense Ministry over threats to media

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has expressed concern over the Ministry of Defense’s threatening the media for criticizing the dismissal of nine soldiers.

In a statement on Saturday, the Ministry of Defense threatened to take action against any party who criticized the ministry’s “routine” disciplinary actions.

The MMC – an elected 15 member council with media and public representatives – said the ministry’s statement infringes on freedom of the press and stressed that the freedom of press cannot be limited any more than is stated in the constitution.

The council appealed to the Defense Ministry to forward media complaints to the council instead of taking direct action against media outlets and reminded the Defense Ministry that the MMC is the legally authorized body to discipline any media.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also criticized the “politically motivated and unjust” dismissal of nine high-ranking officers at the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF).

The nine were dismissed on charges of sowing discord within the military during the political tension surrounding the annulment, cancellation and delay of several round of presidential polls.

At the time, 17 high ranking officers signed a letter expressing concern over delay of polls and the repercussions in the absence of a president elect by the end of the presidential term on November 11.

Shortly afterwards, 73 mid ranking officers circulated an appeal calling on fellow soldiers not to obey “unlawful” orders issued by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan or his political appointees following the expiry of the presidential term.

The MMC has recently expressed concern with the Supreme Court asking the police to investigate a report aired by opposition aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

The police on Sunday sent case documents to the Prosecutor General’s office and requested charges be filed.

The military deployed soldiers to protect media outlets in October after masked men torched Raajje TV’s headquarters. The fire completely destroyed the station’s offices.


Military deploys soldiers to protect Maldives media after arson attack

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has taken to the decision to provide security services to various media outlets across the country following the arson attack on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that military officers were now manning “almost all” the country’s television stations as well as the premises of other media outlets.

Colonel Raheem said that, rather than being a reaction to a specific threat, the MNDF had decided to assign officers to guard a number of media stations immediately following the arson attack that destroyed Raajje TV’s offices in Male’ this morning.

“This was our own decision, although some [media] have requested they be provided protection,” he said, adding that officers had also been deployed to Raajje TV, which relaunched its broadcasting this afternoon.

He added that MNDF officers were acting as part of ongoing efforts to provide security for any areas deemed “vulnerable”, having previously provided similar support in the past for the Maldives’ electricity and water infrastructure.

The Maldives Police Service today said it was not involved with the MNDF’s security operation, with its own officers instead performing patrols outside the perimeters of media organisations.

Raajje TV was attacked by a group of masked individuals who doused the station’s computers, desks and main lobby with petrol. The office’s guard was later stabbed and hospitalised with critical injuries.

The attack took place despite the station having previously requested police protection following warnings of an impending attack.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed this morning that police had received the letter requesting security, and said they “took action by patrolling the area.”

Media violence

The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants.  During the first attack – in August 2012 – assailants sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cables.

The main office of Villa TV (VTV), a private broadcaster owned by Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader – and third-placed presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim – was attacked during anti-government protests on March 19, 2012.

Extensive damage was reportedly caused to VTV and its property, with the station briefly being brought off air – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”.

The Maldives Media Council meanwhile today released a statement condemning the Raajje TV attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, calling for security forces to do more to protect media outlets and journalists.

“In view of that, MMC has continuously requested to investigate these cases and asked security providers to be more attentive to media security issues. MMC is consciously discussing all relevant stakeholders to ensure protection of journalists and media stations.”

The MMC last week declared its intention to file a no-confidence motion in the Majlis against Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) members via Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee.

The council stated its belief that the broadcasting commission had failed to create a healthy broadcast media environment, instead creating fear and discomfort, and that it was therefore unable to fulfill the Broadcasting Act’s mandates.

Media freedom

MMC member and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir meanwhile today maintained that media should not cover live events and other developments in the country in a manner that would incite violence.

Zahir confirmed the MCC also published a statement yesterday (October 6) criticising any media found to be trying to incite institutions or individuals to perform violent acts.

The statement specifically condemned any media found to be spreading calls for “terrorism and unrest”, something it said was not permitted even in nations regarded as leading in international standards of press freedom.

Zahir said that the MCC were aware of a number of examples where numerous unspecified media outlets had been covering news in a way that could create unrest.

“Sometimes the language used by [these media outlets] goes beyond what is acceptable within democratic values,” he said.

Zahir cited one notable example of media inciting unrest was by covering the statements of certain politicians who encouraged people to “violate the law” and go against state institutions.

He added that all media had a responsibility to the nation to decide whether or not to cover statements that might lead to violence or unrest.

Asked if the MMC’s statements could infringe on constitutionally-guaranteed press freedom, Zahir argued that the media oversight body was responsible under law to ensure such media freedoms were used in the “right manner”.

“The point is media needs to work for a better society. Media freedom has to be for the betterment of society,” he clarified today.


MMC postpones appointing president after internal election stalemate

The appointment of a new president for the Maldives Media Council (MMC) has been postponed after an election held yesterday (July 27) ended in a tie between two candidates competing for the position.

In a statement, the MMC said that a date for a second election would be announced at a later date.

The election was held to appoint a successor to former MMC President Ibrahim Khaleel, who resigned from his post earlier this year.

Local media reported that MMC current Vice President Husham Mohamed and council member Abdulla Shinaan had both received the same number of votes yesterday.


Maldivian journalist arrested by police for taking photos

Police have arrested a Maldivian journalist while he was taking photographs outside the justice building on Tuesday morning (March 26).

SunMV journalist, Ahmed Azif, was taken into police custody after contesting claims by police that he could not take photographs without displaying press identification, local media reported.

Maldives Media Council (MMC) and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) have since condemned the arrest of the journalist, calling for all parties to refrain from actions that might hinder freedom of the press.

A statement from MJA reads: “While it is not prohibited to take photographs near the justice building by a journalist or anyone else, arresting a journalist for taking pictures in the area is a deliberate act to instigate fear among journalists.”

SunMV has claimed that Azif had been picked out by police from a number of journalists standing outside the justice building.