Criminal Court barring Raajje TV from trials “unacceptable,” says media council

The Criminal Court’s decision to bar opposition-aligned Raajje TV from observing trials is “unacceptable,” the Maldives Media Council (MMC) has said.

The court had accused the station of “spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges” after a Raajje TV journalist and cameraman videotaped an alleged meeting between Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin at Café Layaali in Malé on Sunday night.

At a press conference today, MMC President Mohamed Asif ‘Mondhu’ said the court could have barred the journalist involved in the incident instead of barring all journalists from the station.

Mondhu also noted that the cameraman was forced to delete the footage.

A Raajje TV staff told Minivan News that a group of young men led by Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Assad forced the cameramen to delete it.

While taking video footage inside a public restaurant was not illegal, Mondhu said Café Layaali’s owner would have been within his rights to either obstruct filming or ask them to leave if patrons complained.

“However, if the footage is not connected to the owner, [they] can’t order it to be deleted,” he said.

Mondhu also criticised police for not stopping the group from forcing the Raajje TV cameramen to delete the footage, characterising the incident as police’s failure to provide security to media personnel.

MMC member Ahmed Hamdhoon meanwhile said the council would investigate the case to identify the culprits.

Judge Bari is currently presiding over the trials of both former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The alleged meeting took place hours after the seventh hearing of Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

PG Muhsin told Minivan News that the judge was already at the café when he went there for a meal with family members.

“The crew were right next to me. But I don’t even think they recognised me. Because they didn’t videotape me, they were taping Bari who was sitting at another table. I don’t know why they would accuse me of such a thing. Anyone there would clearly see that I was sitting with a separate group of people and Judge Bari was sitting at another table,” he said.

However, Raajje TV insists the pair were sitting at the same table smoking shisha and that Muhsin walked away when the journalist started asking questions.

MP Assad and the group arrived shortly thereafter and forced the cameramen to delete the footage, after which Specialist Operations (SO) officers escorted the Raajje TV staff to the police station.

The police conducted body searches and took statements from the crew. They were released afterwards.

A police spokesperson said Raajje TV crew members had not been arrested, but detained briefly for videotaping in Café Layaali without the owner’s permission.

Related to this story

Raajje TV barred from Criminal Court, accused of threatening judge

Judges Didi and Yoosuf refuse to step down from Nasheed’s terrorism trial

JSC clears Criminal Court Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf of ethical misconduct


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.”


Week in review: November 30 – December 7

The past week has seen the administration of President Adbulla Yameen make tentative steps towards resolution of the country’s dire economic situation.

The Government of China offered the Maldives US$8.2million in grant aid for development projects. Reports also emerged in Indian media of its government being on the verge of unfreezing a credit standby facility – initiated before the recent deterioration in bilateral ties.

The New Indian Express suggested that the official announcement would be made during Yameen’s visit to India, also announced in the past seven days.

Further aid flows for climate change adaptation projects were also forthcoming, with the European Union pledging an additional €4million to the €34million given since 2009.

Solid progress on the 2014 budget continued to elude the government this week, however, with the submission of details to parliament delayed for the fourth time as the finance minister awaited further specifics about the administration’s plans.

Specific designs for the long-awaited construction of a bridge linking Malé and Hulhumalé were requested by the government, although foreign investor confidence is unlikely to have been improved by the Maldives’ failure to appear on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, confidence in the country’s tourism industry remained undiminished at the World Travel Awards in Qatar, where the Maldives collected the prize for ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’.

Politics, police, and protecting Islam

Despite prior promises of leniency from the government, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was briefly imprisoned this week after the Supreme Court revoked a number of parliamentary privileges.

Hamid – who has cited parliamentary privileges to defend himself against contempt of court charges – spent just hours in Maafushi jail before the High Court overturned the Criminal Court’s six-month sentence.

Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy led the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in suggesting that the Supreme Court was compromising the independence of parliament.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, MPs from all sides of the political divide took to the floor of the house to support a constitutional amendment further safeguarding Islam’s position as the country’s sole religion.

The police this week recommended that the Prosecutor General’s office pursue charges against Raajje TV’s CEO and its head of news for a report criticising the Supreme Court. Police also detained an individual in relation to the arson attack that destroyed MDP-aligned Raajje TV in October.

Less progress was reported in the case of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s sex-tape allegations, with police admitting they have been unable to identify the individual widely reputed to be Hameed. The police did, however, promise that more information from abroad may yet shed light upon the issue. Local media had suggested that police investigations had been thwarted by the Criminal Court’s failure to provide the required warrants.

Retired Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was honoured this week by his former colleagues prior to his move into the political arena.  Home Minister Umar Naseer used the celebrations to order police to remove any material that might incite hatred against the force.

The fostering of dissent within its own ranks was the reason given for further dismissals within the military three senior officers were dismissed, whilst 34-year veteran Lieutenant Colonel Zubair Ahmed told Raajje TV that he had been forced to retire from the MNDF.

The Defence Ministry this week threatened action against any media outlets who criticised its disciplinary procedure, subsequently receiving censure itself from the Media Council.

Finally, preparations for the January 18 local council elections continued in the past seven days, with government-aligned parties – excluding the Adhaalath Party – deciding to divide seats up amongst themselves to maximise their prospects. The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party hopes to arrest its declining fortunes going into future polls by rebranding its party color, logo and slogan.


Media Council expresses concern with court ordered police investigation of Raajje TV

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has expressed concern with the Supreme Court asking police to investigate a report aired by opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

The MMC noted in a press release yesterday (October 25) that attending complaints concerning the content of Maldivian media outlets and taking measures was within the legal mandate of the media council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).

“The Maldives Media Council Act states that it is the media council that should investigate issues concerning press freedom and take measures. And a police investigation of such a case would be an obstruction of the press freedom established in the Maldives as well as an act that would instil fear in the hearts of journalists,” the statement read.

The MMC statement concluded by urging all state institutions to submit complaints regarding the media to the council and to “respect the laws and the bounds of the constitution.”

According to local media reports, the Supreme Court asked both the police and the broadcasting commission to investigate the Raajje TV report.

Mohamed Shaheeb from the broadcasting commission told newspaper Haveeru that the Supreme Court ordered the commission to share the findings of its investigation within 10 days.

Shaheeb noted that the law gave the commission 60 days to investigate complaints, adding that it had to provide sufficient time to the accused media outlet to respond to the charges.

The offending programme on Raajje TV reportedly compared the state of the Maldivian judiciary to the injustice of ancient Sodom.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.

“Contempt of court”

The Supreme Court has previously asked the police to investigate lawyers and MPs for alleged contempt of court for publicly criticising the judiciary.

In February 2013, the Supreme Court suspended lawyer Abdulla Haseen after he criticised the judiciary in an appearance on Raajje TV.

Haseen was barred from advocating in any court in the country while the Supreme Court asked police to investigate him for contempt of court.

The Prosecutor General’s Office however decided not to prosecute Haseen after police concluded its investigation.

However, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Alhan Fahmy have been charged with contempt of court after allegedly defaming the Supreme Court.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern over “the case of a lawyer who had been indefinitely suspended by the Supreme Court for allegedly criticizing one of its judgements in public”.

“Such a suspension leaves no avenue for appeal and review and it represents a violation of the rights of the lawyer. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about reports regarding threats of contempt of court used to muzzle the freedom of expression of lawyers,” the report stated.


President’s Office media secretary defends barring Raajje TV from press events

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad on Wednesday (April 10) defended the exclusion of private broadcaster Raajje TV from President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s press conferences and events.

Masood was summoned to parliament’s Government Oversight Committee after Raajje TV filed a complaint alleging discriminatory treatment by the President’s Office.

Responding to questions from MPs, Masood said Raajje TV was not invited to press conferences and functions because the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-leaning TV station did not fit criteria or standards for reporting set by the President’s Office.

The policy of the President’s Office was to invite “responsible and experienced” media outlets, he said. Asked for a copy of the criteria by MDP MP Mohamed Shifaz, Masood offered to send it to the committee on Thursday (March 11).

According to Masood Imad, the news outlets that meets the President’s Office standards are newspapers Haveeru, Miadhu, Sun Online, state broadcaster TVM, private broadcasters DhiTV and VTV, and Minivan News.

“DhiTV is somewhat better than VTV,” he added.

Imad also said that private media were not invited on official trips by the President to minimise costs.

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has meanwhile asked the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to press charges against the President’s Office over the alleged discriminatory treatment of Raajje TV. In November 2012, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) condemned the eviction of a Raajje TV crew from a press conference on orders from the President’s Office.


MPs reject dissolving media council

MPs voted 53-1 against a recommendation by the Finance Committee to dissolve the Maldives Media Council and transfer its mandate to the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).

While the vote was taken on July 4, the result was announced at today’s sitting of parliament.  It had not been officially declared due to disorder in the chamber that forced the sitting on July 4 to be called off.

The Finance Committee, chaired by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, recommended dissolving the media council after studying its audit report, which suggested that the independent regulatory body was not functioning as envisaged in the law.

Also at today’s sitting, MPs voted 33-18 to send a bill on freedom of assembly proposed by Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed to a seven-member ad hoc committee for further review.

The list of MPs approved for the committee were MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), MP Moosa Zameer from the People’s Alliance (PA), MP Visam Ali and MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Independent MP Ahmed Amir, MP Riyaz Rasheed from the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Abdulla Jabir from the Jumhooree Party (JP).

MPs meanwhile voted unanimously in favour of the Maldives becoming a member of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Convention on Cooperation on Environment following a report submitted by the National Development Committee of parliament.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid adjourned today’s sitting at 2.30pm after quorum was lost during a debate on a report submitted by the Economic Committee after studying amendments proposed to the Tourism Act.

Today’s sitting was interrupted seven times due to loss of quorum before Speaker Abdulla Shahid brought the sitting to a close after quorum was lost for an eighth time.


President’s Office encouraging unprofessional journalism, claims MMC

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has accused the President’s Office of discouraging journalists from following the council’s rulings and code of conduct.

The MMC’s claims came after Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair told news outlet Sun Online that the government did not support any action against journalists of the Sun Media Group, after three journalists conducted an investigation into illegal prostitution in the Maldives.

The Media Council declared the standard of the written articles were unprofessional and that the articles indicated that the journalists may have been engaged in sexual activities with the prostitutes, and that their style of writing encouraged the activity. It referred the matter to the Prosecutor General.

However, Zuhair told the paper that the government did not consider the articles to be inappropriate, or containing words that indicated that the journalists might have involved themselves in any criminal offences.

In a press release issued by the MMC following the remarks made by the Press Secretary, the MMC accused the President’s Office of obstructing the council’s efforts to establish a culture in which journalists worked within a code of conduct.

The council said the executive was speaking in such a way that implied it could influence the work of the council, which was irresponsible.

‘’It makes the public and the media lose confidence in the legal duty of the council to set the media in the right direction,’’ said the Media Council in the statement. ‘’The remarks made by the Press Secretary were made in a way that it encouraged such writings, and was said without showing any respect to the Islamic principles, laws and the beliefs of an Islamic society.’’

The council also noted that it has declared that the articles were inconsistent with the Media Code of Ethics and that the editorial management of Sun had already apologised over it.

After Sun Magazine published series of articles sharing their experience with prostitutes working at spas and salons in Male’, the MMC pulled the magazines from circulation and forwarded the case to the Prosecutor General to file criminal charges against the paper.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair was not responding at time of press.


President concerned over police clash with journalists

President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over the clash between journalists and police during the opposition led-protest on Monday night.

Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the riot.

The protest began as a gathering in front of party’s head office, but degenerated into a riot when protesters marched to the President’s official residence of Muleeage.

A journalist from Miadhu, three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by police.

President’s Office issued a statement saying that it had received reports that journalists covering the opposition protest were injured by police officers who tried to control the situation.

The statement said the President’s office held a meeting yesterday to discuss the issue with the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), Maldives National Journalists Association (MNJA) and the Maldives Media Council.

Special Envoy to the President Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair, Deputy Under Secretary of the President’s office Aishath Shuweykara, Communications Coordinator Husham Mohamed and a police media official sat in the meeting with the media representatives.

The statement acknowledged complaints received from NGOs claiming that journalists were injured during police attempts to control the area, that they were deliberately targeted, that police forced journalists to move too far away from the area, and referred to journalists rudely.

The statement also acknowledged complaints that pepper spray and tear gas was sprayed into the area without warning, according to the NGOs.

Zaki told the delegates that the Maldives Media Council was establishing policies for journalists on how to cover riots and protests, and called on all concerned authorities to cooperate with the council.

Zaki said he do not believe that there was any hostility between journalists and police.

Opposition DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said that the reputation and dignity of the country was lifted among the international community after the press freedom was offered in the new constitution, and that the incident that occurred that night was disgraceful.

”The police acted upon orders from the President, they obstructed the work of the journalists while they were trying to broadcast the riot on air,” said Nihan. ”I strongly condemn the police actions.”

Nihan said the President was liable for the police action.

”It is against the words of the President – media is the fourth pillar of democracy, we will demand their freedom,” Nihan said. ”Police reactions were quick and very violent that night.”

He alleged that the attack on the media was given upon a request by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Moosa Manik.

”It was not even 48 hours after Moosa warned that he would ‘show some of the media what I’ve got’. He has also warned that action would be taken against Villa TV and DhiTV,” Nihan claimed.

He also regretted that international organisations such as Reporters Without Borders did “not appear to care” about this incident.


DhiTV and VTV take 50% of media subsidies, Parliament reveals

Parliament has announced the distribution of one-off subsidies to be received by the media this year, with 50 percent of a total Rf 4 million being allocated to VTV and DhiTV.

35 percent has been allocated to radio and 15 percent to print media.

“I personally don’t think it’s fair,” noted President of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) and editor of Haveeru, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, but said but could not give any further comment on the matter.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair explained the funds for the subsidies were allocated by the Parliamentary Finance Committee “after they made  amendments to the budget.”

“They should not be deciding administrative methods of how it should be given out,” he observed.

The country’s new media council, elected today and intended to regulate the media in the country, has the MJA more concerned, however.

The council consists of fifteen members, seven of whom have been elected from the public and the remaining eight from the media sector.

Hiriga said “we don’t agree with this sort of council [because] almost half [the members] are nominated from the government.” He added these members were “elected on a political basis” and it was not “a right thing to do.”

The eight members of the media to be in the council are: Saif Azhar from Haama Daily; Mohamed Nazeef from Atoll Radio; Shiyam Mohamed Waheed from VTV; Ahmed Abdulla Shaheed from Haveeru; Musoon Hilmy from DhiFM; Ahmed Muhsin from TVM; Mohamed Haleem (Sungari) and Ismail Rasheed.

Hiriga said the council would have the power, not to censor media, but to inform the public whether they believe a report “is biased or wrong.”

He said he was lobbying with the government to try to “block” the council, and are “sending amendments to the Parliament.” He believes the media should monitor itself.

Zuhair said the media council “is necessary” and because a majority of the members are from the media, “they will surely be fair.”

Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ali Sawad, said the the idea of a media council has been discussed before and there has been “legislation to that effect” proposed to Parliament earlier.

He said the council was meant to “regulate the media” and they would look at “ethical issues and all regulatory aspects of the media.”

Dr Sawad noted the council would not be politically influenced since members have been “elected by peers” from both the general public and the media. He added the council would be “an independent legislative authority” that would operate under the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

Who got what

Parliament has released a list stating how much money each news company will receive. All the figures are in Maldivian Ruffiya and amount to a total of Rf 4 million.

DhiTV: 820,000.00

Villa TV: 1,060,000.00

Future TV: 120,000.00

DhiFM: 434,000.00

HFM: 56,000.00

Radio Atoll: 294,000.00

Sun FM: 364,000.00

Faraway FM: 252,000.00

Haveeru Daily: 246,000.00

Aafathis Daily: 162,000.00

Miadhu News: 102,000.00

Haama Daily: 90,000.00