Six journalists from private radio station DhiFM launched a protest outside the media company’s offices today, claiming unfair dismissal and editorial pressure for negative coverage of the government.
The journalists began protesting this afternoon outside Champa Guest House, which houses DhiFM and DhiTV, holding up placards that read: “Protect the rights of the journalists” and “Stop using media as a propaganda machine”.
“We are all protesting because our organisation terminated its staff in violation of the Employment Act and because it has also broken media ethics,” said one of the journalists. “Four of us here were sacked and the other two resigned.”
The journalist claimed that the sacked reporters were not given notice and were owed unpaid salaries.
“We cannot work freely. This is a very biased media,” he continued. “The management has a lot of influence on our work. We have to write stories the way that they want, according to their idea of politics.”
He added that the journalists did not accept the reason for the dismissals given by the management, which was reportedly to cut costs, as the station was presently hiring more staff.
Gufthaq Ajeel, 19, told Minivan News that he quit the station in protest after management allegedly leaked the source of a news report he filed about unhappy employees at the Hulhule Island Hotel (HIH).
“They went into my personal folder and leaked it,” he said.
As Article 28 of the constitution protects journalists from being compelled to disclose sources, Gufthaq said that he had filed a complaint with the police on Wednesday.
Moreover, he added, reporters at DhiFM were occasionally told to skew reports for an anti-government slant.
Following DhiFM’s coverage of a large rally in Male’ by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in July, Qufthaq explained, the DhiFM newsroom was shut down and four of its journalists fired.
The protesters called for the resignation of DhiFM CEO Masoodh Hilmy and other senior management.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Masoodh denied the claims of his former employees.
“We had to terminate three of them due to punctuality and disciplinary issues, and the other three resigned of their own wishes,” he said. “We provided all the allowances and salaries mentioned in the Employment Act for the staff we terminated.”
He added that prior warnings were given to the staff verbally before the decision to dismiss was made.
“Nobody can handle it when one is too much,” he said.
Masoodh further denied the allegations of bias and undue influence on journalists working for the private broadcaster.
“If you asked a staff here you will understand, we have no influence on the journalists,” he said.
President of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Ahmed Hiriga Zahir, told Minivan News that one of the journalists had contacted the MJA this morning notifying him of the intent to protest, “but otherwise we know little about it. We have not yet spoken to DhiFM management to get their side.”
The MJA was willing to assist the journalists by lobbying DhiFM management if requested, he said, but noted that the MJA had yet to evolve into a journalists’ union and was more focused on promoting issues such as media freedom.
Asked if the MJA was concerned about allegations from the sacked journalists of editorial interference, he observed that “media organisations have the freedom to decide whether they want to be pro or anti-government.”
“In countries like the US it is common for media [outlets] to even endorse political candidates, but that should not affect the [ethical] standards of their news reporting. Media’s role is still to keep the government accountable,” Hiriga stated.
Visiting journalism trainer Tiare Rath, Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), last month identified resistance among senior editorial leadership in the country to evolve away from politically partisan media.
“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.”