Civil Court orders MNBC to transfer assets and staffs to MBC

After months of dispute between the opposition and the government over control the state media, the Civil Court has finally ordered the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) to transfer all assets and staff to the newly-established Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

The tug-of-war began last year when the government transferred the assets and staff from Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) to the 100 percent government-owned corporate entity MNBC.

The opposition-majority parliament subsequently created MBC and order the government to transfer MNBC’s assets and staff. MNBC has been labelled pro-government by critics, while proponents argue that as most other mass media is owned by senior opposition political figures and favours the opposition, the government had no alternative voice.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government will appeal the Civil Court’s ruling in the High Court.

“The MPs and the judiciary should consider that the MNBC is operated by a board and all of its assets are properties of the MNBC,” he said.

Zuhair contended that there were resorts belonging to MPs that were operated under the same structure as MNBC, and questioned whether they wished to set a precedent for the court-ordered transfer of all their assets to another person’s company made for the express purpose.

MBC was formed by the parliament last year in April and its board was also appointed by the parliament. The board is answerable to parliament which makes the MBC board politically influenced, the government has claimed.

After the parliament passed the legislation to ”free” the state media, expecting the government to transfer the frequency and assets, the government bluntly declined to transfer the assets.

”MNBC was re-branded and changed its name after two board members of Television Maldives (TVM) proposed their names for the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) board, but were dismissed from the parliament,” said opposition MP Ahmed Nihan at the time.

Nihan alleged that he was “certain” there was “a secret deal” made between MNBC and the government.

The opposition also held a series of protests for the freedom of state media before the issue was taken to the court.


MBC to take MNBC issue to court

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), established under a law enacted by parliament, has said it will take the government-created state media body Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) to court, in a dispute over which organisation would take control of the state media’s assets.

Daily newspaper Haveeru reported that the MBC will request in the Civil Court that the MNBC transfer all the assets, money and staff of MNBC to MBC.

Political Adviser for the President, Hassan Afeef, recently stated that the MNBC would not be dissolved even though parliament had established the MBC.

Afeef claimed that the two channels of the state media, Voice of Maldives and Television Maldives, were assets of MNBC and no asset of a company shall be transferred to another company without the consent of the owners, and that therefore the two channels could not be given to MBC.


DQP accuses government of seizing state media

The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has claimed the government has “captured and rebranded” the state media, the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between parliament and the government over which institution should have jurisdiction over the state broadcasters.

“Equal opportunity from state media is one of the basic characteristics of democracy,’’ said a statement issued by the DQP. “There is no one who would dispute that the most important [component] of a steady democracy is establishment of a free media.’’

The party accused the government of seizing the the assets of Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives, and refusing to transfer the assets to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which was established by the parliament to monitor the state media.

The party further claimed that the government was seeking to “mislead” people by rebranding the state broadcasters’ parent company to the ‘Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation’ (MNBC).

“This reveals the characteristics of a government that is uncivilised, stubborn and dictatorial,” the DQP statement said, concluding with a prayer “to protect [the country] from this kind of leadership.”

DQP claimed that when the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the opposition, they were “always accusing the then government of misusing the state media.”

‘’As a result, MDP in their manifesto wrote in bold letters that they would establish a free media,’’ the statement said.

“It proves that MDP also wished for independent media before they came into power, however today we are witnessing that MDP has failed to fulfill their own pledges stated in their manifesto.’’

“After the bill on Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was passed in the parliament and the board was appointed, the government realised that the board members were not the type of people that would stick to anything the government did, and they forgot what they had written in their manifesto,’’ DQP claimed. “Now the government is trying to prevent Voice of Maldives and Television Maldives from becoming independent.’’

MDP parliamentary group leader and MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik said that historically DQP had been against the MDP manifesto, but was now supporting it self-interestedly in parliament’s bid to take over state media.

“To me it’s a joke that all these days they have been against our manifesto, and then suddenly they point at it for their self-interest,’’ said Moosa, accusing the DQP of dictatorship in turn.


Looming tug-of-war between parliament and executive over state broadcaster

The executive today signaled reluctance to hand control of state media over to parliament, potentially sparking a political tug-of-war over Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).

The state media outlets are currently operated by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), a 100 percent government owned company established by executive decree.

However in April Parliament approved a law to establish a company called the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to operate the state media, with nine board members appointed and answerable to the parliament.

Today the parliament appointed nine members for the MBC board. Chairman of MNBC Mohamed “Madulu” Waheed and Managing Director Ibrahim Khaleel also proposed their names, but were dropped from the shortlist by parliament.

Out of the 29 names presented, MPs approved 18 names to be shortlisted and nine of the persons were appointed as the MBC board members.

“MNBC is a company established under a resolution by the president and all its assets and land also belong to the company under a contract,” said the President’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef today at a press conference.

”Although the MBC has been established, the MNBC will continue operating the state broadcasters. I would like to note that TVM and VOM are both channels registered under MNBC and are assets of that company.”

President Mohamed Nasheed ratified the bill establishing the MBC in April, which was originally passed by Parliament on 6 April 2010.

The government said then that it wanted the corporation to be free from political and commercial influence, and to televise public service announcements and matters of the state (such as President Nasheed’s speeches) at no cost to the government.

However today Afeef said that if the MNBC did not wish to hand the assets to MBC, there was no way they could be transferred if the MNBC did not wish to.

“If the MBC was established for the government to operate, the government would have the power to appoint people for its board,” Afeef said. “The government did not establish MBC, it was the parliament.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair in April that the formation of a new public broadcaster “will be best for the general public”, and that MNBC’s assets would be transferred to the new corporation.

DRP MP Abdulla Mausoom suggested at the time that President Mohamed Nasheed should “be very happy” with the way the bill was passed.

”Now the president can say he has no power over the media,” Mausoom said.

However government’s backtracking today suggest it may not be prepared to hand control of the state broadcasters to parliament so readily.