The parliamentary committee reviewing the mid-term budget for 2010 has voted to recommend an amendment to include Rf6 million in subsidies for private media.
The proposed amendment was made by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to recommend the inclusion of subsidies for private broadcasters and daily newspapers in the budget in the committee report.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Gemanafushi MP Ilham Ahmed of the DRP said the designated amount might not be ideal but was adequate under present economic circumstances.
Ilham said he had “no doubt” the budget will be passed with the amendment when the committee presents its report to parliament this week.
“I believe it will pass with a large majority,” he said. “I don’t think independent members would want to see private media embalmed and buried in its infancy.”
Ilham accused MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of opposing the subsidies as “the present government does not want to develop private media”.
He added broadcasters and newspapers critical of the administration faced pressure and restrictions from the government.
At the committee meeting, said Ilham, MDP MP Ahmed Hamza proposed an amendment to give Rf1 to private media.
The MP for Bilendhoo told Minivan News today he did not believe private media should be given government subsidies while small businesses and fishermen were facing serious difficulties in paying back loans.
“Most of the private media are well off,” he said, adding he proposed the Rf1 as annual subsidies as a “symbolic” gesture because the chairman of the committee, Dhiggaru MP Ahmed Nazim, asked for a vote on the issue without determining an amount.
But, said Hamza, he was speaking in his individual capacity at the meeting and as the main parties have agreed in principle to the subsidy, he expected the amendment to be passed.
Last week, the Maldives Journalist Association sent a letter to parliament calling for the allocation of subsidies to the media in next year’s budget.
The association urged MPs to authorise the subsidies in the same principle as it was given to political parties.
Ilham said the Rf6 million decide upon by the committee was 50 per cent of the assistance given to political parties.
The committee decided the subsidies will be granted to television and radio stations as well as daily newspapers, but not to online news outlets or weekly magazines.
Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, president of the MJA and editor of daily newspaper Haveeru, said he welcomed the committee’s decision.
While Ilham said the committee has not worked out the details of the subsidy, Hiriga said he anticipated that distribution could be a problem.
At a time when private media was operating under serious financial difficulties, the subsidy will be of valuable assistance, he said.
“Initially I think this is a good amount, especially with the government facing budget constraints,” he said.
But, with the overhead cost of operating a newspaper or television station upwards of Rf1 million, the subsidy was “proportionately small”.
“But at such a difficult time, even a small assistance will help cover costs such as rent,” he said.
Hiriga said he did not think a profitable media outlet with economies of scale was possible given the small market in the Maldives.
“Especially with the high cost of rent and electricity, I don’t think a full-fledged operation is possible without subsidies,” he said.
Several daily newspapers were operating at a loss with just “one or two staff”, he said, as a result of not being able to pay for enough journalists.
The MJA president said he expected the budget to be passed with the amendment as it was not a partisan issue and he believed all MPs understood the importance of the media. “So I think it will get enough support and it will be passed.”