Maldives’ media in spotlight as election fallout continues

The rising trend of death threats being sent via telecommunications devices has prompted the Communication Authority of the Maldives (CAM) to request police investigate and take action against offenders.

CAM’s statement comes a day after ongoing death threats received by the Elections Commission (EC)’s permanent staff and polling station officials prompted the commission to file a report with the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

CAM highlighted that intimidating threats and death threats are criminal offences and the institution called on all Maldivians to refrain from using telecommunications devices to commit such criminal acts.

The government agency called on everyone receiving threats to report the incident(s) to police.

CAM also emphasized that offenders would have their telecommunications services terminated without further notice.

Media council “lost faith” in broadcasting commission

Meanwhile, the Maldives Media Council (MMC) will file a no-confidence motion against Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) members via Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee, reported local media.

MMC believes the broadcasting commission has failed to fulfill its mandate to create a healthy broadcast media environment, instead creating fear and discomfort, is unable to uniformly treat media agencies equitably, and is unable to fulfil the Broadcasting Act’s mandates.

The media council has also called on MBC to “stop any action that might affect freedom of media” including creating fear and threatening media agencies.

“MBC was threatening media organizations [and] was failing to establish equality in implementing regulations…and therefore MMC has lost faith in the current members of MBC,” MMC President Husham Mohamed told local media.

MMC decided to file the case in Parliament after MBC issued a “warning” on Friday night (September 27), saying that broadcasting licenses would be revoked from any outlet transmitting content which “threatens national security”, Husham explained.

MBC said it would file legal proceedings against any media organisation it believed had broadcast such materials in violation of the Broadcasting Act.

Another factor prompting the MMC to take action against the broadcasting commission was MBC’s call on Thursday (September 26) that broadcasters to “refrain from airing photos of members of independent institutions – Supreme Court judges and Elections Commission members – in a derogatory manner which could jeopardize national harmony, until the Commission concludes adjudication of the related complaints”.

Seven of 11 MMC members voted in favor of the action against MBC members during the extra-ordinary meeting held on Saturday (September 28).

Last week the Broadcasting Commission ruled that the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s televising of the Jamiyyathul Salaf’ ‘Al Andhalus’ preacher Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim did not violate any regulations.

The decision came after the Broadcasting Corporation’s chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik along with MBC members were summoned before Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee, following complaints by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs that the sermon infringed the rights of the party’s presidential candidate.

MMC Elections Commission complaint

The MMC has also called on the Elections Commission to “refrain from discriminating between media organizations when sharing information regarding the presidential elections”.

“I haven’t heard that complaint [officially from the Maldives Media Council],” EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek told Minivan News yesterday (September 29).

“I have respected calls from various media [outlets, however] what I say is not properly addressed in reports, so I’m private as possible,” Thowfeek explained. “I give interviews to people I can trust to write what I say [accurately].”

“Also it depends on the time I have, [for example] if I’m in a meeting I can’t speak to anyone, but once I have free time I do,” he continued.

“If I believe the journalist will give [my] message accurately then I will give [that person] reports,” he emphasised.

MBC recently launched an investigation into Villa TV (VTV) – owned by resort tycoon, former Judicial Services Commission member, and Jumhooree Party Presidential Candidate Gasim Ibrahim – broadcasting unsubstantiated content to incite hatred against the Elections Commission in violation of the broadcasting code of practice.

Local media broadcasting unsubstantiated information about the Elections Commission and electoral process catalyzed unrest throughout the Maldives.

Confusion over the presidential election’s first round voting figures was created by local media reports not matching those of the EC during counting, with sluggish EC figures supplemented by differing poll results, depending on the outlet chosen.

Media misrepresentation

Inaccurate local media reporting was also highlighted as a problem by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik during an press conference held today (September 30).

“My comments made in public on Friday have been changed a lot [in local media reports],” said Manik.

“I want all Maldivians to know this. I work against brutality. I specifically said if any of the police officers here hit me, I will tell my wife to go and tell his wife not to brutalize us,” he emphasised.

Police are currently investigating Manik for threatening police and their families.

Meanwhile, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has ruled that it had not come across any substantial evidence supporting the claims of Manik being attacked by Corporal Mohamed Atheef during the brutal police crackdown on February 8, 2012.

UN human rights encouragement

In light of these local media issues, the Maldives’ United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office has encouraged journalists to leverage the UN human rights system to collectively advocate for freedom of opinion and expression to be upheld.

“As media professionals, I would encourage you to build your awareness and knowledge of international human rights standards, and reflect on how you could use the UN human rights system to, especially collectively, advocate for the respect and protection of freedom of opinion and expression in the Maldives, including the protection of journalists,” said UN Human Rights Adviser Safir Syed.

“I cannot emphasise enough that it really is in your interests,” he added.

The UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment on freedom of opinion and expression was attached to an email sent to various local media outlets yesterday (September 29).

“A free, uncensored and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression and the enjoyment of other Covenant rights. It constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society,” Syed quoted from the General Comment document.


Raajje TV alleges Maldives Broadcasting Commission warning “biased”

Raajje TV claims a warning issued to them late last week by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission was biased, given their lack of transparent procedures for determining code of conduct violations.

“The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to Raajje TV last Thursday (June 6) saying the news aired on 23 February 2013 violated their code of conduct,” Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Yamin Rasheed told Minivan News today (June 8).

“Raajje TV strongly believes the commission’s decision is biased and will appeal to Maldives Media Council (MMC), the highest authority,” Rasheed stated.

MBC investigated a complaint that Raajje TV “broadcast false information” when its news-ticker displayed information that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had called on its members to slaughter Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members, Sun Online reported.

The commission’s investigation concluded that Raajje TV violated the code of practice by “showing images, sounds or texts of content that might damage a person’s dignity or is demeaning in nature”, as stated in articles 3(a), 5(a) and (b), according to local media.

“The ‘caution’ [letter MBC issued] is a warning. If that repeats they will take actions within broadcasting law, which might include temporary suspension of Raajje TV’s broadcast licence,” Rasheed explained.

He believes that MBC’s investigative decision making process is bias, because there is no transparent procedure for determining [code of] conduct violations.

“It is not clear how they concluded these statements, there is no clear procedure, it is not publicly announced,” said Rasheed. “I don’t know how they came to that conclusion.”

“We trust our journalists to report what they hear and see as true, they report the facts,” he stated.

Regarding the February 23 broadcast in question, Rasheed explained that “PPM officials called the MDP a terrorist group at that rally, we have the recorded footage.”

“Yet we don’t know what the opposition submitted against us, we don’t know specifically what the MBC is concerned about [regarding the code of conduct],” said Rasheed.

Rasheed claimed that MBC had “done nothing” in regard to code of conduct violations committed by Television Maldives (TVM), Villa TV (VTV), DhiTV and their sister network DhiFM, which “shows their bias”.

“DhiTV and VTV are constantly harassing politicians, for example saying Nasheed is anti-religious and many other things against him. DhiFM has shown pornographic footage, while the state broadcaster TVM has shown anti-social footage related to Maldivian culture of couples kissing, which is illegal,” alleged Rasheed.

VTV is owed by resort tycoon and Judicial Services Commission (JSC) member, Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim.

DhiTV and DhiFM are predominantly owned by Champa Mohamed Moosa, a prominent businessman and resort owner in the Maldives.

In March 2013, MBC called for the Maldives Media Company, which owns DhiFM Plus, to air a statement of apology without any reservations from the station for violating the broadcasting code of conduct after allegedly airing pornographic content during a late night news show.

In July 2011, MBC reprimanded 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.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission, as well as its Vice President Mohamed Shahyb, were not responding to calls at time of press.

Maldives Media Council support

Raajje TV plans to appeal the MBC warning with the MMC on Sunday or Monday, according to Rasheed.

“The only thing we see from MBC is the intention to penalise media,” claimed Rasheed.

Conversely, Rasheed praised the MMC for their positive interactions with and support of free press in the Maldives.

“The media council is our parental body, was elected from within the media groups, and is more independent than the commission,” said Rasheed.

“They have a responsibility to protect our rights and regulations and are doing things for media freedom as well as giving us many training opportunities,” he continued.

“They are more all-encompassing in dealing with media because they deal with both print and broadcast journalism,” he added.

Rasheed hopes to receive MMC support in regard to the MBC warning issued, since they previously filed a case with the prosecutor general against the President’s Office for intentionally not cooperating with Raajje TV.

In April, the Civil Court ruled in favour of Raajje TV in its lawsuit against the President’s Office for barring the opposition-aligned television station from President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s press conferences and functions.


Media Council asks Criminal Court to stop obstructing press freedom

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has requested the Criminal Court halt unconstitutional efforts to obstruct press freedom, reports local media.

The MMC sent a letter to the Criminal Court yesterday (May 26), addressed to Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, in response to the court’s request that local media outlet Sun Online reveal a source related to a recently published article.

“The council believes that this impedes the protection guaranteed to journalists in article 28 of the Constitution, and also obstructs journalists’ freedom in carrying out their duties. We urge all groups to refrain from repeating such acts,” the letter stated.

Investigations by the MMC in regard to the article in question – for which the Criminal Court requested the source of information – revealed that the Ali Shifan murder case report was delayed due to an administrative error of the court.

The MMC also highlighted that Sun Online was the only media outlet requested to reveal their source(s), despite other local media groups reporting the incident in the same manner.


Maldives Media Council submitting case against President’s Office “to create a free media”

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has voted to submit a case against the President’s Office to “create a free media” in light of the discriminatory treatment of Raajje TV.

The President’s Office is violating equal rights by not inviting the opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV to events and has not been adhering to the MMC’s requests that it give equal opportunities to all media, the MMC Secretariat told Minivan News (April 9).

The case will be submitted to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office April 10.

“MMC members have voted to submit the case. Members have a strong feeling that it is a necessary step to take in order to create a free media in the Maldives,” said the MMC Secretariat.

The MMC has been very active the past two months trying to solve these problems and is now sending the case to the PG, Raajje TV Deputy Chief Executive Officer Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News.

The President’s Office has not been inviting Raajje TV to press conferences, has denied reporters entry press events in the President’s Office, and has not sent the channel any government press statements, Yamin claimed.

The President’s Office also asked government ministries and state-owned companies not to give information to Raajje TV and for these companies to stop providing private sponsorship to the media outlet.

Yamin said that they had observed this treatment was particular only to their channel.

“The President’s Office said they have not invited us because it is their privilege to decide whether to invite Raajje TV or not,” said Yamin.

“We are talking about rights granted in the constitution, not a privilege. There must be a situation [in the Maldives] where independent media can run.

“Article 28 of the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of the press and article 29 assures the right to freedom of information,” Yamin declared.

Yamin explained that the MCC had acted as a mediator to try and resolve the lack of cooperation shown by the President’s Office to Raajje TV.

“The President’s Office said if we do certain things they will cooperate. However, then the President’s Office is forcing their influence on our editorial policy,” said Yamin.

“We are not going to negotiate our constitutionally guaranteed right to information,” he added.

Ongoing government discrimination

Raajje TV filed a case against the President’s Office in the Civil Court in September 2012, complaining that the station had been boycotted from official events. Yamin expects the civil court to issue their verdict later this week.

Raajje TV also submitted a case to the parliamentary committee on government accountability regarding the president’s office discriminating against the media outlet. Parliament invited the president’s office to attend the committee twice, but never received a response, according to Yamin.

Additionally, Raajje TV lodged a complaint against the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) with the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), alleging it was “using its power to give benefits” to other TV channels by providing them funding.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was contacted by the ACC regarding the matter, but did not respond, according to Yamin.

“The MBC have not done anything regarding our right to information. They should be working on these issues to make sure rights are assured,” said Yamin.

Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed previously named Raajje TV as an “enemy of state” in a press conference held in July, the same day on which the Maldives Police Services publicly stated its refusal to provide cooperation or protection to the channel.

Raajje TV also filed a case against the Maldives Police Services in September 2012 over their decision to deny cooperation or protection to the channel. In February 2013, the Civil Court ruled that the decision by the Maldives Police Service to cease cooperating with Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Dismissing the police argument that it had the sole discretion to decide who to invite to press conferences and functions, the court stated that the action more resembled a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to information.

Raajje TV believes this verdict will apply to the President’s Office as well.

“If the court is fair and balanced a similar verdict will come. I believe the court won’t be that corrupt because the constitution and laws are clear. It’s written in black and white,” Yamin said.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters in the country and is the only television station aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The TV station has come under substantial pressure and criticism from groups including the government and political parties aligned with it.

RaajjeTV has been the subject of continuous verbal attacks by the state following the transfer of power in February.

In early August 2012, Raajje TV’s control room was sabotaged by intruders.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders at the time condemned this attack, stating “This targeted and well-prepared operation was the foreseeable culmination of the new government’s escalating verbal attacks on Raajje TV. How the authorities respond will be seen as a test of their commitment to media pluralism.”

The President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission were not responding to calls at time of press.