New public media company is ‘a state mouthpiece’

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the new public service media law as an attack on press freedom with the creation of a “state mouthpiece.”

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation, which operated the state television and radio stations, was dissolved last week after President Abdulla Yameen ratified the Public Service Media Act, which replaced the state-owned corporation with a new state media company.

“The Maldivian media have faced a number of challenges from the government in recent months and this Act is another attempt by the Yameen government to control critics,” the IFJ said in a statement.

“The concept of the public broadcaster is to ensure balanced and ethical reporting in the public interest, however with the government controlling this, it will only serve as a propaganda tool.”

The IFJ’s local affiliate, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), said the law is “not in line with best practices and fundamentals of a public service broadcasting or media” and accused the government of seizing control of public service broadcasting.

“MJA believes the Maldives has gone back to the 80s and we condemn the controlling of media, especially the removal of public service broadcasting in the country,” the association said.

The pro-government majority parliament passed public service media (PSM) bill on Monday amidst protests by opposition MPs and approved the president’s seven nominees to the PSM governing board on Thursday without conducting interviews.

At the first meeting of the public service media governing board, Ibrahim Umar Manik was elected chairperson and former VTV CEO Ibrahim Khaleel was made managing director.

Manik told Minivan News last week that the law was a “positive move” that will improve the public broadcaster. Manik was also chairman of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s board.

“We were not influenced before and I am very confident that we will not be influenced by the government in the future as well,” he said.

Ibrahim Hilmy was meanwhile elected vice chairperson of PSM and former VTV presenter Mohamed Ikram and Aminath Shayan Shahid were appointed deputy managing directors.

During last week’s parliamentary debate, ruling party MP Riyaz Rasheed said one of the reasons the government had to form a new state media company was because the previous state broadcaster provided live coverage of an underwater protest calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

However, TVM had not covered the event.

Riyaz also criticised the state broadcaster for not providing enough coverage of the government’s development projects, the president’s overseas trips, and state ceremonies.

Government officials were only invited to programmes because opposition politicians were refusing to appear, he claimed.

The new law also requires the state to distribute a printed daily newspaper and use social media to disseminate programmes.

The PSM board said in a statement on Thursday that Television Maldives (TVM) and the radio station Dhivehi Raajjege Adu will retain its brand names until the board decides otherwise.

The state broadcaster will also follow the former corporation’s policies until new policies are formulated, it added.

Parliament approved a monthly salary of MVR25,000 for the managing director in addition to an MVR15,000 living allowance and an MVR1,000 phone allowance. The chairperson and vice chairperson will receive MVR15,000 and MVR13,000, respectively, as living allowance, while other members will receive MVR10,000.


Foreign ministry, US embassy, international organisations condemn attack on Minivan News

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US embassy in Colombo, and international press freedom organisations have issued statements condemning the attack on the Minivan News office.

A machete knife was buried in the door of the Minivan News building on Thursday afternoon (September 25) after a known gangster removed the CCTV security camera outside the premises.

Expressing “deep concern” with the increasing intimidation and threats faced by journalists, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon “noted that the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

“Media freedom and freedom expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Maldives and the human rights instruments that the Maldives is party to,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“At the ongoing Human Rights Council Session in Geneva the Maldives co-sponsored the resolution calling for the safety of journalist.”

The US embassy also expressed concern “about the recent attacks on media and political offices in Malé as well as continuing threats to media personnel.”

“Peaceful freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right, and we strongly condemn these acts. The embassy notes the prompt Maldivian Police Service action to launch an investigation, urges the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators, and calls for an end to all intimidation and violence,” the US embassy stated.

Press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile noted that the attack came after an investigative report – commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network – on the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan was made public.

“The fact that [Thursday’s] attack on Minivan came three days after the report’s publication is not seen as a coincidence,” RSF stated.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a strong possibility.

“Reporters Without Borders condemns this latest attack and calls on the authorities to provide Minivan’s journalists with protection, especially as this is not the first time the website and its staff have been targeted,” the statement read.

Rilwan remains missing after 50 days and is believed to have been abducted.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation and expressed concern with declining safety for journalists in the Maldives.

“This attack is clearly intended to intimidate an independent news organisation for its editorial line,” said IFJ Asia Pacific Deputy Director Jane Worthington.

“It’s a lame and condemnable attempt that the Maldives government should investigate thoroughly to ensure the perpetrators are punished as soon as possible.”

The IFJs local affiliate, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), also put out a press release condemning the attack.

“Minivan News is an established and active news organisation, and this attack is a clear attempt to threaten and intimidate journalists in the Maldives. MJA calls upon the authorities to investigate this incident with utmost urgency,” MJA said.

The MJA noted that institutions and mechanisms were in place to investigate complaints regarding the media, noting that “differences [of opinion] with regard to content published by news organisations do not warrant vandalism and intimidation.”

“While establishing an environment where journalists could work freely is a responsibility for all, we call on the relevant authorities of the state to do everything necessary to ensure [press freedom],” the MJA said.

After rising to 51st in 2009, the Maldives dropped to 108th place to pre-2008 levels in the RSF Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.


MJA election indefinitely delayed

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA)’s election of its executive committee has been indefinitely delayed. It was previously scheduled to be held on Sunday, September 21.

In a statement released today, the MJA explained that the delay in the election is due to numerous complaints received regarding recently submitted membership forms. It states that the currently serving executive committee decided unanimously to delay the election until the complaints are resolved.

The statement elaborated on the nature of complaints received, stating that many concerned the application for membership by individuals who are not journalists, and errors in the names submitted on forms.

The MJA has made three previous attempts to hold the elections, but it has been cancelled every time due to concerns raised by various members of the association.


IFJ and MJA again urge government to expedite Rilwan case

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) released a further press statement expressing concerns over “the slow progress made in the search of journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla”.

“Today marks one month since Rilwan was last seen yet the IFJ remains critical of the investigation and the release of information by the authorities,” the statement dated September 8 reads.

“The huge public response to Rilwan’s disappearance shows the strong desire for justice and answers, not only by his journalistic colleagues but the public at large,” the statement quotes IFJ acting director Jane Worthington as saying.

Rilwan was last spotted on CCTV footage at the Hulhumalé Ferry Terminal. Eye witnesses report seeing a man fitting Rilwan’s description being forced into a vehicle at knife point in front of his residence at approximately the time Rilwan would have reached his residence.

The IFJ states that evidence found by Minivan News – later corroborated by other media outlets – suggests Rilwan was abducted, while the authorities have so far not provided any information which links the reported abduction in Hulhumalé to Rilwan’s disappearance.

“One month on, the demand for answers remains strong and if the figures the police provide are correct, there is vital information that is not being shared with the media that might find the culprits behind his disappearance,” said the statement.

The IFJ previously released a statement last month calling upon authorities to undertake a full investigation with the “utmost seriousness, with all findings released to the public.”

“The disappearance of journalists is a serious matter and full support must be provided to the family,” read the August statement.

Rilwan’s family have resorted to lobbying the People’s Majlis in order to gain information about the investigation, noting last week that police updates on the investigation did not included evidence on progress.

The most recent police statement noted that they had questioned 318 individuals, interrogated 111, searched 139 locations in Hulhumalé and conducted dives to search 267,197.5 square meters of ocean.

“These are just statistics,” responded Rilwan’s brother, Moosa at the time. “We want to find him. We want the police to tell us if they have any leads, if there is progress”.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the Maldives Democracy Network have also suggested the police should be conducting investigations more transparently. The UK government has this week expressed concern over the disappearance.

Speaking to Minivan News today, police media officials said  that there were no further developments in the investigation that could be shared with media or the public.

Meanwhile, Rilwan’s family and friends continue in their efforts to find him and spread awareness about the disappearance.

In a social media campaign dubbed ‘Find Moyameehaa‘ – referring to the pseudonym adopted by Rilwan on social media – friends and family have so far conducted various activities in the streets of Malé.

Efforts included the gathering of 5000 signatures on the Majlis petition in just over one week, and a gathering for families victims of violent crimes.

“Friends and family will once again be meeting the public on Friday afternoon from 4 to 6pm at the Artificial Beach,” Rilwan’s long time friend Yameen Rasheed explained.

According to Yameen, Friday’s event will be focused on addressing questions surrounding Rilwan’s suspected abduction, spreading information about Rilwan and the loss society will face in losing young minds like him, sharing various literary works he has produced, and conducting a special prayer in hope of his quick and safe return.


Five member committee appointed to oversee MJA election

A five member committee representative of media outlets have been appointed on Wednesday to organise and hold the election of the leadership of Maldives Journalist Association (MJA).

After disputes within the association over the polls, MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir tendered his resignation following the last meeting on Sunday (August 24) which ended with accusations of assault.

The five persons appointed to the committee are Haveeru News Senior Assistant Editor Ahmed Hamdhoon, Sun Online Assistant Editor Ibrahim Zaki, VNews Senior Editor Ahmed Rifau, Raajje TV journalist Mohamed Fazeen, and Editor Azmi Ali.


Special committee to hold MJA elections

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) will select a special committee representative of the country’s media outlets to conduct its internal elections, following continuing disputes over the polls.

The association stated in a press release that the committee will be compiled of the association’s managerial committee and five representatives from media outlets. The five members will be selected through a nomination and voting process in a meeting of the managerial committee to be held today (August 26).

The MJA has attempted to hold the election of its board members on three previous occasions, with meetings being repeatedly disrupted due to concerns raised by various members.

Disruptions to the most recent meeting resulted in accusations of assault, while the accused member received a death threat just moments after the incident. Former President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir tendered his resignation following Sunday’s meeting, citing an atmosphere “not conducive” to the holding of elections.


IFJ calls on government to speed up investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) together with its affiliate the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has called on the government “to speed up investigation to clarify of whereabouts journalist Ahmed Rilwan Adbulla, who is missing since August 8.”

In a joint statement, the MJA called on “all relevant authorities to make an extra effort to clarify the whereabouts of Abdulla,” while the IFJ said the disappearance was “deeply concerning.”

“We call on the authorities to undertake a full investigation up to and including the time of his disappearance, conducted with the upmost seriousness, with all findings released to the public. The disappearance of journalists is a serious matter and full support must be provided to the family,” said the IFJ.

The MJA meanwhile expressed “grave concern over recent incidents of threats sent through text messages to local journalists.”

The MJA also called on “all parties to refrain from obstructing a free and independent media in the Maldives.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile put out a statement last night expressing concern with the police investigation and efforts to locate Rilwan, which it contended were “inadequate”.

The main opposition party noted that Rilwan disappeared at a time when journalists were facing intimidation and receiving death threats.

The MDP referred to the party bringing to the government’s attention the abduction of alleged advocates of secularism by a vigilante group in June.

“However, we note with regret that the government has taken no action concerning [the abductions],” the statement read. The party also referred to previous threats against journalists and the arson attack against the opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

At the time, the party claimed to have “received information that some religious extremists have kidnapped young people claiming they had committed irreligious acts.”

The MDP said the public was anxious following Rilwan’s disappearance due to the government’s failure to share information and updates regarding the investigation.

“And we note with concern that especially Rilwan’s family and independent journalists are facing extreme anxiety and sadness due to the [disappearance],” the party said.

The party called on the government and the relevant authorities to step up the investigation as well as efforts to find Rilwan with more focus and attention than at present.

The statement concluded with a prayer for success in the efforts by Rilwan’s family and friends to locate him.

Both the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and Home Minister Umar Naseer have expressed concern at his disappearance, while the police’s efforts to locate Rilwan are ongoing.

Police have launched an official appeal for assistance, requesting that anyone with further information call the Police Hotline 332 2111, or Serious and Organised Crime Department at 9911099.

A team of around 30 friends and family members focused efforts on the more isolated areas of Rilwan’s island of residence Hulhumalé yesterday.


MJA cancels executive council vote amidst chaos

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has cancelled a vote to elect members to its governing executive council amid chaotic scenes.

Members disrupted the meeting over the secretariat’s decision to hold an open vote. Journalists called for a secret ballot claiming junior reporters would be compelled to vote for their employers in an open vote.

However, the secretariat decided to go ahead by counting hands in favor, but cancelled the vote when some members refused to back down.

This is the second attempt by the MJA – founded in 2009 – in the past year to elect its governing body.

Journalists also took issue with the absence of their names from the membership list.


MJA to hold executive committee elections in June

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) has announced that it will be holding its executive committee elections on June 2.

The association has attempted to hold the elections on two previous instances, with each attempt halted due to disagreements on procedural matters between its members.

MJA President Ahmed Zahir said that he is hopeful that the election can be successfully held this time.

“Our intention has always been to hold a successful election. Even on the previous two tries, we tried to complete it. However, some of our members had various reservations. We have tried to address them this time around, and so are hopeful that it can be successfully concluded,” he said.