GIP-DRP coalition not a third way; “two men with no other way”: Nasheed

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP) were forced to form a coalition to contest the upcoming presidential election out of necessity, former President Mohamed Nasheed has said, contending that the parties lacked grassroots support and comprehensive policies to represent “a third way” for voters.

Appearing on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) Thursday night, Nasheed reiterated that power-sharing coalitions were not compatible with a presidential system of government.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate stated that the public wanted political parties to present policies that could deliver job opportunities, public transport, better healthcare and education, a higher standard of living and “a way to overcome anxiety over paying water, electricity and phone bills.”

“I do not see a citizen who wants ‘another way.’ What is the path to deliver this way [to development]? We do not hear [political parties] talking about that,” Nasheed said.

“We are presenting one path to that [development]. We believe MDP’s policies will bring prosperity to the people. I do not see this third way you referred to as ‘a way.’ I see it as two men with no other way. That is not a political philosophy,” he said.

Coalition agreements were made by politicians who wanted “power” in terms of cabinet posts and influence in the government, said Nasheed, observing that the parties in the current ruling coalition have yet to offer any policies.

Third way

Announcing its decision to back Dr Waheed’s presidential bid last week, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali said that the party believed voters should have a third alternative to what he contended were the “hardline and extreme” ideologies of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the MDP.

“If the parties supporting President Waheed, DRP and other parties contest the 2013 presidential election separately, we believe that the vote will be split, the Maldivian people will not have a real opportunity, and there will be a chance for the past to be revived,” Thasmeen said at a press event on Sunday (May 12), referring to the three-year rule of MDP and the preceding 30-year reign of PPM figurehead, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The DRP believed that “moderate” parties should join an alliance united behind President Waheed as a third option to MDP and PPM, said the MP for Kendhoo in Baa Atoll.

Earlier this year, the government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and religious conservative Adhaalath Party both announced their intention to join a coalition with President Waheed’s GIP.

DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef told Minivan News last week that in the absence of a strong coalition, the PPM could face MDP in a second round run-off and “those of us in the middle ground would be forced to support the MDP.”

The PPM was a party that belonged to “one family, or a supreme leader,” Shareef said.

Meanwhile, responding to Nasheed characterising the coalition parties as “empty shells,” DRP Leader Thasmeen and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told local media today that the criticism showed the former president’s “concern” with the challenge posed by the coalition.

Masood claimed that the combined strength of numbers in Dr Waheed’s coalition would outstrip both the PPM and MDP before the election scheduled for September 7.

Dr Waheed’s GIP currently has 3,930 registered members while the DRP has 21,411 members, according to the Elections Commission (EC).

The MDP has 45,666 members followed by the PPM with 22,383 members. The two largest parties are also respectively majority and minority party in parliament.

Dr Waheed’s GIP does not have a single MP of the 77 in parliament or a single councillor out of more than 1,000 elected representatives on local councils.

2008 ‘Watan Edhey’ coalition

In his TVM appearance, Nasheed shed light on the rapid disintegration of the MDP-led coalition that took office in November 2008, agreeing that the power-sharing experience was “bitter.”

In the second round run-off in October 2008, MDP candidate Nasheed was backed by third placed candidate Dr Hassan Saeed and fourth placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim from the Jumhooree Party (JP), which was allied with the Adhaalath Party (AP) at the time.

Gasim however resigned as home minister 21 days into the MDP government while Dr Saeed resigned as special advisor after the first 100 days. The Adhaalath Party remained in government in control of the Islamic Ministry, but decided to sever its coalition agreement in late 2011 following a change of leadership.

Asked why the coalition fell apart, Nasheed first noted that Dr Saeed backed the MDP “unconditionally” and without a formal agreement.

“But after winning the election, [Saeed] secured posts for Dr [Ahmed] Shaheed and Dr [Mohamed] Jameel and secured positions in some government-owned companies for their people,” Nasheed alleged.

Gasim’s Jumhooree Party also secured cabinet posts, he added, stressing that all other parties agreed to endorse the MDP manifesto and implement its policies.

“The policies include, for example, public-private partnerships (PPP), opening up fishing,” he said. “Opening up fishing was a big problem for some people. And developing the airport and our other public-private partnerships were unacceptable to some people. And striking at resorts became completely unacceptable to some people. They felt if there was a strike at a resort, riot police should be sent immediately to put a stop to it.”

On November 30, 2008, police clashed with about 200 striking employees at the ‘One and Only’ Reethi Rah resort. Police were sent to the island by Home Minister Gasim at the request of the resort management.

Nasheed said that the “regrettable incident” occurred while he was in Fuvahmulah.

TVM visit

Nasheed’s appearance on the Raajje Miadhu programme marked the first time the former president has featured on the state broadcaster since the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.

On February 7, the main compound of the now-defunct Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) was taken over by mutinying police and soldiers almost two hours before Nasheed’s resignation.

After briefly broadcasting live feed of Gasim’s Villa TV, the MNBC brand name was changed to TVM, its title under former President Gayoom.

Nasheed’s visit to the state broadcaster on Thursday night meanwhile prompted a flurry of tweets and Facebook posts by TVM staffers.


MBC yet to finalise plans for new “Dhivehi TV” channel

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has announced its intention to launch a new national television channel under the name of “Dhivehi TV”, according to local media reports.

Television Maldives (TVM) Chief Operating Officer Mohamed Asif said that beyond the name, no decisions had yet been made on a possible target audience or the type of programming the channel would provide.

While still in the planning stages, Asif told local newspaper Haveeru that the channel would not be a replacement for the Youth TV channel, which was abolished when MBC assumed control of the state’s media assets in February this year.

Until the controversial transfer of power on February 7, the parliament-created state broadcaster MBC had been engaged in a long running tug-of-war with state-owned Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) for control over state media assets, which were re- branded by the company as MNBC One and Raaje Radio.


Handover of state broadcaster “best decision I’ve made”: President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan today said the handing of the state broadcaster to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was the “best decision I’ve made”.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military officers storming the state broadcaster’s compound prior to President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, using a firearm or some kind of explosive to break down the gates.

Nasheed subsequently claimed he was forced to resign “under duress” in a coup d’état orchestrated by remnants of the former dictatorship, and carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military.

Speaking at an event to mark World Press Freedom Day, Dr Waheed claimed the handing of the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) to the parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) had ended executive control of the media.

Nasheed had refused to hand control of state broadcasting to MBC claiming the then-opposition controlled-Majlis had appointed their supporters to the MBC board in “a media coup.”

Dr Waheed also announced today that the government would resume commercial advertising in privately-owned newspapers, marking a return to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s policy of effectively subsidising private newspapers through government advertisements.

Advertising an “incentive” for newspapers

Ousted President Mohamed Nasheed ended the policy in 2008 and shifted government announcements to a free weekly in-house gazette, claiming the move saved Rf 32 million (US$2,077,922) annually.

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) had campaigned against Nasheed’s decision, claiming the move had bankrupted news outlets and led to the closure of several newspapers.

Speaking to the press at a function held to mark International Press Freedom Day, Waheed said, “I want to open up government advertisements instead of publishing them solely in the government gazette even today. I think that will help the newspapers”.

MJA President ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir also spoke at the function held at the President’s Office, and said government advertising had provided “an incentive” for newspapers.

“I am not calling for the gazette to be annulled. But I don’t believe announcements for jobs and tenders should come through this gazette,” he said.

Handover to MBC

Under Nasheed’s administration, the MBC and the MNBC were engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for the control of state broadcasting assets.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military firing an explosive device to open MNBC gates. MNBC staff told Minivan News the security forces cut off MNBC coverage and ordered the station to air private Villa TV station’s live feed.

Former MNBC Managing Director Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that President Waheed’s younger brother Ali Waheed had ordered the handover of MNBC to him on the orders of then VP Waheed. After Shareef refused, Ali Waheed led the military takeover of the MNBC.

Shortly after President Waheed took office, he signed over state media to the MBC. He told reporters today that the “best decision I’ve made was handing over TV and Radio to MBC.”

“The executive does not own any TV or radio stations any longer. I think this is the first time in Maldivian history that the executive does not control radio, TV or newspapers. I met with the MBC board within my first week in office. Even among all the stress and turmoil, I ensured the handover of state radio and TV to MBC as stipulated by law,” Waheed said.

Waheed said the handover of state assets to MBC ensured independence for the media as the government no longer controlled the media. “Today, the executive does not want to try and make the government’s view to be the truth,” he said.

“I believe freedom of expression exists in the Maldives to its widest extent today,” Waheed added.

However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the MBC of “blatant propaganda”, alleging the station produced biased content and did not give adequate exposure to all political parties.

Meanwhile, MBC has announced a temporary halt to all political programming until the TV and radio stations better understood their public service role and could provide “intellectually debatable programs”.

Former President Nasheed held a parallel press freedom lunch for journalists and MPs at Traders Hotel.


Training concerns raised as MBC cuts political content from state broadcasts

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) this week announced a temporary halt to all political programming on state media outlets, amidst debate over the need for more independent and informative public broadcasting.

Speaking to local media, MBC Chair Ibrahim Umar Manik claimed that all political programmes on Television Maldives (TVM) and radio broadcaster Voice of Maldives (VOM) would be stopped until both organisations better understood their public service role and could provide “intellectually debatable programs”.

Manik, who was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press, told Sun Online that “foreign groups” were currently training TVM and VOM staff to overcome challenges in operating as a public service broadcaster. Both broadcasters are reportedly set to instead air dramas and other “social programs” in place of political content, though the “Raajje Miadhu” evening show is still expected to deal with the day’s major headlines.

Local media bodies, as well as politicians, have complained that state broadcasting under both Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administrations had been traditionally run for political and commercial benefit rather than as a public service.

Legal battles

The MBC has been previously involved in a protracted legal battle against former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration over whether the executive – via the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) – or parliament should have responsibility for overseeing state media.

The MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010, the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board.

Following the controversial transfer of power that saw President Mohamed Waheed Hassan take office in February, MBC was granted control of TVM and VOM.

Informative focus

Despite this politicking over the control of state media, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef told Minivan News today that he hoped the MBC’s initiative to rethink public service programming would ensure greater informative and education programming on social issues.

“They [the MBC] are trying to do this, but I believe we need a change of mind set,” he said. “The problem they [state media] has is not so much about politicised thinking, but in having a proper knowledge of how public service broadcasting functions,” he said.

Taking the example of commercial broadcasters in the Maldives, Nazeef said that programmes were focused almost entirely on providing entertainment rather than informative and educational content – something he believed was also the case for the country’s state broadcasters as well.

He claimed that as a result of this focus on entertainment, political programs in the country had traditionally focused on bringing together two rival politicians to confront each other rather than on informing the public about issues such as democratic reform, human rights or public health.

From the perspective of the MMC, Nazeef claimed that local public service broadcasters did not presently have sufficient training to operate under a manner expected of non-commercial media organisations, such as providing a greater emphasis on educational content.

He therefore urged caution over the reforms, adding that the MMC hoped to see a greater focus by the MBC on providing training for finding stories and issues concerning social development.

“Democracy came overnight [following the presidential elections of 2008]. People really needed to be educated on what exactly this meant for society,” he said. “ State media should pay much more of a role in informing people.”

“Propaganda machine”

Nazeef said he believed that since its inception, state media, whether in the guise of TVM, or the re-branded MNBC during Nasheed’s presidency, was continuously run more as a “propaganda machine” and commercial outlet than a state broadcaster.

Beyond covering political developments, Nazeef said he hoped that more training and focusses would be provided to cover issues related to health and human rights.

“At present, you do not find awareness programmes in the Maldives media,” he claimed. “Training is definitely needed in how to find these kinds of stories.”

Training calls

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir concurred that training was needed to help both TVM and VOM adapt to becoming more public service-orientated broadcasters, as well as opting for political impartiality.  However, he claimed that deep rooted partisan thinking posed significant challenges in allowing for more independent coverage on the issues affecting the public.

To this end, Hiriga said he understood that the MBC had temporarily suspended political programming in an attempts to try and have more issue based programming on both TVM and VOM, particularly for important national issues like dealing with dengue fever.

He claimed that he was therefore broadly in favour of the proposed move by the MBC to adopt a more public service-orientated broadcast model.

“I believe it’s not bad actually. At the moment there is no choice to see any other kind of programs, so there should be much more of a focus on public issues,” he said. “My point is that public broadcasters should not just have programs about politics.”

Hiriga accepted that in the long-term, public broadcasting needed to deal with political issues affecting the nation, but this needed to be handled in a different way to how he believed the state had informed its citizens in the past.

“Certainly there should be more independent and liberal minded people in state media,” he said.

However, Hiriga claimed that ensuring independent political coverage in the country was extremely difficult for journalists in the Maldives due to the partisan politics that often divides the nation down party lines on many issues.

“Most journalists are strong believers on either side of the country’s political divide. This makes it difficult for them to produce stories independently and more training is needed in this area,” he said.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokespersons Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and Imthiyaz Fahmy could not be contacted by Minivan News at the time of press regarding the party’s view of the proposed changes to state broadcasting.

However, on March 11 this year, the party announced its intentions to lodge a complaint against the current practices of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) state media outlets, alleging that it was broadcasting “blatant propaganda”.

In the letter, the MDP accused the MBC of violating the agreements mandated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Act of August 2010 by producing biased content and not giving adequate exposure to all political groups.

Last month, Minivan News reported on some of the challenges said to be hampering independent reporting and free media in the country.


Free media too much for Maldives to digest: Maldives Media Council

Following the attacks on media property during Monday’s unrest, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef has expressed doubt over whether a free media can flourish in the Maldives at the present time.

“We see that although we talk of democracy and freedom of media and expression, I don’t think society is ready to digest a free media,” said Nazeef.

After protests against the reconvening of the People’s Majlis turned violent, Villa Television (VTV) bore the brunt of the angry demonstrations. Projectiles aimed at the studio included bricks – and in one instance, a bicycle – while the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) personnel manned the building’s entrance.

The anger of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters towards VTV has been building since the events of February 7 when staff of the then-state broadcaster Maldives National Broadcast Corporation (MNBC) were ordered to patch through the VTV broadcast.

VTV is owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim, also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Gasim’s chain of Villa Island resorts have been placed on a recent travel advisory of UK-based pro-democracy organisation Friends of Maldives (FOM).

“These are places linked to individuals or groups who we suspect to be involved in the subversion of democracy and in human rights abuses in the Maldives,” reads the advisory.

In a video aired on Raajje Television earlier this month, Gasim was seen celebrating inside police headquarters upon hearing of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to resign.

MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged at the time that the video proved “Gasim’s blatant complicity in the coup d’état.”

The nation watched VTV on state television before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), the name of the state broadcaster during Gayoom’s regime.

The MDP have since alleged that the national broadcaster is “being blatantly used as propaganda outlet of the coup regime, while the ongoing peaceful political activities of the MDP are being sidelined with little regard to the MBC’s mandate and the nation’s laws under which the MBC is functional.”

When asked if the MNDF had been stationed outside the television studios in anticipation of an attack, Colonel Abdul Raheem responded, “We didn’t get any intelligence that there would be attacks. It was not only VTV [that was guarded], we had persons around all key locations.”

The camera of a photographer from the Haveeru paper was also destroyed by protesters during Monday’s unrest, although Editor Moosa Latheef said he did not believe this instance was politically motivated.

Latheef reported no increase in aggression towards his reporters during the recent political strife.

In January, journalists working for the then state broadcaster MNBC were badly beaten during a protest outside the corporation’s headquarters. Preceding these attacks MNBC reporters received death threats, an MNBC official reported at the time.

Free Media?

MMC President Mohamed Nazeef lamented the politicisation of media outlets and the animosity that this produced from sections of the public: “It is a very sad situation.”

The MMC consists of fifteen members elected to preserve, promote and maintain the freedom of the press.

“The media is owned by political and business leaders. Do journalists have freedom to report what they like?” asked Nazeef. “It doesn’t happen.”

Nazeef blamed a lack of financial independence for a dearth of balanced content. “Media organisations are not financially viable. They are dependent on the owners.”

Government subsidies have been used before to try and tackle this issue, but Nazeef argued that this method was not without its problems: “It goes into the pockets of the owners.”

Whilst deploring the violence that was directed at VTV on Monday, Nazeef was not surprised.

“It shouldn’t happen, but you see the media provoking it. [Media] know [they] are taking sides… Media should balance their content.”

Aiman Rasheed of Transparency Maldives was of a similar opinion: “The media situation is clear – different media are aligned behind different people… [We] see conflict extended to the media.”

Transparency Maldives conducted a study last year into the performance and potential bias of six media organisations of which VTV was included (as was Minivan News). The amount of coverage devoted to its owner’s JP was noted as “significantly high” and largely positive.

Meanwhile, the Maldives dropped 21 places on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index between 2010 and 2011. The organisation also expressed its concern over the takeover of MNBC on February 7.

Fathimath Ibrahim Didi of the NGO Maldives Democracy Network agreed that a free media was a crucial concept but added, “What we want to stress is that, at the same time, it is very essential for the media to be responsible.”

“Most of the media stations in Maldives are owned by businessmen in who are somehow affiliated with a political party. Hence there is a very high probability for the media to be biased towards one side while reporting.”

Private station DhiTV is financed by ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa, a local businessman and political benefactor of the former opposition, while the recently opened Raajje TV belongs to Akram Kamaaluddin, state minister at Nasheed’s administration.

Among the most popular local news websites, newspaper Haveeru is owned by Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, who filled various cabinet posts under Gayoom’s administration and has now been appointed as chancellor of the Maldives National University by Dr Waheed, replacing his former party member Dr Mustafa Luthfy.

Sun Online belongs to Meedhoo MP and resort tycoon Sun Travel Ahmed Shiyam.

Minivan News was itself often been accused of MDP bias due its inception as a party news source. Following the change of power in 2008, all funding from politically-affiliated sources was removed. Since then the site has relied on income generated through banner advertising and has passed to a succession of foreign editors who have attempted to establish it as a credible and objective source of news in the Maldives.

Despite the ownership of media, Fathmath thinks reporters can play a crucial role in maintaining neutrality.

“Reporters themselves should also maintain neutrality at all times. We as citizens would like to see non-contradictory information or interpretation regarding one incident from all the media outlets of the Maldives,” Fathimath concluded.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that DhiTV was owned by Hassan ‘Champa’ Afeef. DhiTV is financed by Mohamed ‘Champa’ Moosa. Minivan News regrets any confusion caused.


MDP accuses state media of “blatant propaganda” in letter to Maldives Broadcasting Commission

The MDP intends to lodge a complaint against the current practices of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) state media outlets, Television Maldives (TVM), and the radio station, Voice of Maldives (VOM).

In a letter, the MDP accused the MBC of violating the agreements mandated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Act of August 2010 by producing biased content and not giving adequate exposure to all political groups.

TVM and VOM were, the MDP argued, “being blatantly used as propaganda outlets of the coup regime, while the ongoing peaceful political activities of the MDP are being sidelined with little regard to the MBC’s mandate and the nation’s laws under which the MBC is functional.”

“State media airwaves are being clogged incessantly with interviews, views, opinions, and press conferences detailing the regime’s vision by regime loyalist political parties,” MDP alleged.

“On March 6, MDP’s request to buy airtime to broadcast a crucial press conference by Maldives’ first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed was met with silence.”

The MDP also accused the group of allowing politicians from the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) unfettered access to TVM studios and editing booths in contravention of its independent credentials.

JP MP Abbas Adil Riza, named in the letter as one of the MPs seen at TVM, strongly denied the accusation. He was unaware of the complaint and said he did not wish to see the letter. Also named in the letter are the JP’s Ali Hashim and the DQP’s Adbulla Ameen.

The letter reads “MBC is legally bound and mandated to ensure impartiality and independence in its role as a public service provider”.

“According to Article 2 (c) of the Maldives Broadcasting Act the MBC must facilitate nationwide, equitable, and acceptable transmission and broadcasting. According to Article 3 of the Broadcasting Act the MBC is an independent commission of the State.”

The timing of this complaint appears to be related to the Corporation’s failure to respond to MDP requests for media coverage of a speech by former President Mohamed Nasheed on March 6. Copies of the letter were sent to the MBC as well as to the independent media watchdog the Media Council of the Maldives (MMC) on March 7.

The MMC’s duties as prescribed in the Maldives Media Council Bill, is to preserve media freedom and promote ethical practices, as well as to investigate any complaints filed.

Minivan News itself experienced difficulty when trying to contact the MBC for comment on the issues raised by the MDP.

After a group of police, military and opposition supporters stormed the state broadcaster on February 7, shortly after an assault on the military base in Republic Square, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government rebranded MNBC as TVM – the broadcaster’s title under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.

MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010 the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which the Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board. Days after the events of February 7, TVM was handed to MBC by the new government.

After this takeover, Chairman of MBC Ibrahim Umar Manik expressed his commitment to run the state media with “impartiality” and within legal bounds.

“As stated in the law, we will operate the two stations as a public broadcaster by bringing independent news, information and programs,” Manik claimed.

Maldives Media Council

President of the Maldives Media Council Mohamed Nazeef said he was not yet aware of the MDP complaint although he stated that he would “be very interested” if it were to come to his attention.

His desk is the first place such complaints go to when received, at which point it is standard practice for the Council to attempt a resolution before the official investigative procedures are initiated.

A member of the Council’s Secretariat said no official complaints had been received in recent weeks although there had been a slight increase in the number of people making informal complaints in person.

Discussing the current condition of public media in the country, Nazeef said that he had “noticed an improvement” in the weeks since the Nasheed administration ended.

“[Public Broadcasters] can’t do the same thing as before. They have to give equal time to all political parties,” Nazeef said.

He said he believed that there was little difference between the Gayoom and the Nasheed eras, in terms of media impartiality.

“Television Maldives was same before [under Nasheed] as it had been for thirty years under Gayoom, apart from 2007 and 2008, when it was a little more lenient,” he said.

The most pressing concerns, in the opinion of the Council President, are the lack of social programming and need for better education in the sector. A typical area mentioned as being in need of improvement was investigative journalism.

“This is where the media fails in the past twenty years,” Nazeef continued, “most people are trained for private broadcasting.”

Nazeef recently discussed these issues with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which advocates a robust media as the key to sustaining democracy.


MBC assumes control of state media assets

Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has assumed control over the state media assets– Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM), a week after its headquarters were forcibly taken over by rogue police and military amid the intense political unrest of February 7, when former President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign in what he calls a coup.

MBC assumed control over the state media, following President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s decision in favour of the transfer.

Until recently, the parliament-created state broadcaster MBC had been engaged in a long running tug-of-war with state-owned Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) for control over the state media assets that was re- branded by the company as MNBC One and Raaje Radio.

Despite a court order in favour of MBC, the government continued to run the stations under MNBC  claiming that MBC was stacked with opposition-linked members planning a “media coup”.

However, speaking to the press on Wednesday, Chairman of MBC Ibrahim Umar Manik expressed his commitment to run the state media with “impartiality” and within legal bounds.

“As stated in the law, we will operate the two stations as a public broadcaster by bringing independent news, information and programme,” Manik said.

Meanwhile, in a statement released today, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) welcomed move, saying that the association expects MBC will remain independent and prioritise the “nation’s interest”.

The statement also reads that an independent editorial board needs to be established to ensure unbiased and fair reporting expected of a public broadcaster.


Government must guarantee safety and rights of journalists: Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed strong concerns for media freedom in the Maldives’ following the release of strong evidence that police forces used firearm prohibited to their role to force open the station of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7, 2012.

The station was overrun by security forces as violent clashes broke out across Male’, culminating in the resignation of then president Mohamed Nasheed “at gunpoint”, he has said. By early afternoon MNBC was re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

MNBC’s former director general Adam Shareef described the situation to RSF.

Shareef said he had noticed that the situation on Male’ had become “serious”, and around 4:00am requested the Defense Minister to send more security to the station.

MNBC headquarters and some journalists were previously attacked during the opposition-led protests which began on January 16, 2012, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military after attempting to block his own police summons. The government at the time backed their decision by citing the judge’s record of professional misconduct and blocking police operations, as well as holding suspects without evidence and releasing suspects with strong evidence against them, most notably an accused murderer who killed another person soon after his release.

Shareef said he was shocked when the Defense Minister “refused to send any security forces to MNBC. At that time I knew there as something wrong with the police and defense forces. We were in shock at the refusal, and we were waiting from the early morning until 7:30am. At 7:30 the security members had left their shift, so there was no security at MNBC.

“I was alone with my staff, and I ordered them to stay calm and cooperate with MNDF [Maldives National Defense Force],” he said.

Shareef explained that individuals aligned with the opposition came to the station in the late morning and requested that the station be signed over to their control. When he refused, Shareef was informed that Nasheed had stepped down and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had assumed control of the country.

“I said I hadn’t heard the news,” Shareef told RSF, pointing out that the confrontation took place before Nasheed had formally resigned at 1:00pm that day.

Shareef goes on to describe the violent take-over of the station, which left many of his staff in fear.

A video released yesterday corroborates Shareef’s account of the take-over. A police officer uses a gun to open the locked gates of the state broadcasting station, allowing dozens of police and military forces as well as civilians to rush the building where staff can be heard crying and shouting in fear.

Police in the Maldives are not issued firearms.

Noting that the Maldives ranks 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 RSF press freedom index, “Reporters Without Borders hopes that the Commonwealth ministerial mission, which is to investigate the circumstances of last week’s change of government, will also shed light on the takeover of MNBC, the use of threats and violence against certain journalists and media, and the threats to which several journalists continue to be exposed.”

Members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have today signed a petition requesting parliament to acknowledge last Tuesday’s events as a coup; to bring those involved to justice; and to hold elections as soon as possible.

Since the station takeover TVM has filled its airtime with Disney movies and cooking shows, streaming pre-recorded programs even during the police force’s violent crackdown on a peaceful MDP march on February 8.

In a February 13 statement, RSF warned that Maldives media is in a precarious position amidst the political turbulence.

“The international community must take full account of the danger to the media and to freedom of information in the Maldives,” reads the statement. “For the moment, media coverage of the incidents taking place in this Indian Ocean archipelago is limiting the violence against journalists.”

Foreign media groups including Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, AFP, India Express, the New York Times and Japan’s leading paper The Yomiuri Shimbun converged on Male’ on February 8, bringing the murky politics of the perceived island paradise into global focus.

“But, once the international community’s attention moves on, we fear that media personnel, especially those who are branded as ‘pro-Nasheed,’ could be exposed to reprisals by supporters of the new government or by the security forces, which may not be fully under the new government’s control,” RSF cautions.

It didn’t take long for Maldivians to wonder if they may be subject to similar rules of social behavior.

Following the crackdown in Male’, local media Raajje TV inaccurately reported that two MDP supporters had been killed. Islanders in six southern atolls responded with a firey attack on police stations, court houses and prosecutor general’s offices, leaving public facilities and legal records in ashes.

The next day, Male’-based media received reports opposition party supporters were leading police and military forces to the homes of MDP supporters, who were consequently beaten and arrested without charges.

In a previous article Minivan News investigated the claims. While the reported aggression appear to have calmed some citizens of Addu, Maldives’ southernmost atoll which reported the most severe damage, expressed concern that the quiet was temporary.

“We are not safe because we don’t know when again it will start,” said one man speaking to Minivan News outside Feydhoo’s smoldering court house.

Alif Fahumy Ahmed, whose brother-in-law was still detained in Gan’s burnt police station on February 11, was similarly watchful. “Things in Addu have calmed at the moment, but they may continue once HRCM and the reporters leave,” he said.


Police fired gun in takeover of MNBC, video reveals

Video footage taken during the storming of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7 reveals that a police officer used a firearm to break down the gates of the station headquarters in capital Male’, allowing dozens of police and military forces (MNDF) as well as some civilians in plain clothes to forcefully take over the station.

According to Maldivian law police officers are not issued firearms.

Approximately two hours before former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned from office “under duress” in what his government has called a “coup d’état”, a group of rogue security forces armed with batons, iron rods, wooden planks and evidently firearms “hijacked” the state media station, forcing it to change to Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A video obtained from an unidentified source captured the event from an upstairs window within the MNBC compound, looking down on the television station’s locked gates.

The video begins as tear gas canisters are thrown at a group of MDP activists attempting to protect the building outside the gate, billowing yellow smoke and forcing then to retreat from the area. A woman inside the MNBC headquarters screams, “Oh Mother! Mother!” as another comforts her, asking to “stop crying.”

Riot police with shields charge the gate as the tear gas clears, accompanied by several men who are not wearing uniforms. As the scene unfolds, a male voice is heard saying,  “Look there’s the police coming, they have guns”, while another man exclaims: “Oh no! That’s the bad police”.

The mob then attempts to break the heavy chain on the gates while a man inside shouts, “Oh my God, they’re opening [the gates], they’re opening”.

At the height of the attack on the gates, a uniformed police officer sticks a gun through the circular hole on the right-hand side of the gate and fires. Smoke from the weapon’s discharge floats up into the air. The crowd then bursts through the gates into the courtyard. Some of the men throw stones and one of the men, who isn’t wearing a uniform, is brandishing an iron rod in his hand. The mob then advances towards the main entrance of MNBC before the video cuts out.

“We felt trapped, kidnapped”

Minivan News spoke to some of the then-MNBC staff on duty inside the headquarters that morning, who recounted the “frightening experience” of February 7 on condition of total anonymity.

“They just stormed into the building and broke the doors and windows to force their way in. Some slapped the paper stacks and equipment off the tables. The first guy who came into the newsroom was a protestor and he ordered us to stop all the work we were doing. He kept on stomping his feet on the ground to frighten us and threatened to ‘finish us’ if we didn’t listen. So we stopped. We were all so scared,” one reporter recalled.

“In just a few minutes the whole place was filled with protesters shouting at us, police and MNDF took over the main control room. There were shouts and cries of girls everywhere. We felt trapped, kidnapped,” the reporter added.

“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” another station employee claimed.

The employee added that they were ordered to patch through the VTV channel, owned by minority opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim. The nation watched VTV on state TV before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.

Another staff member said that the security forces let the staff that wanted to leave the building exit, and assured them, “No harm will come to the rest”.

Newsroom sub-editor Ahmed Muhsin was taken home under police custody, another staff member told Minivan News.

“But we were surrounded by armed opposition protestors. We were scared for our lives,” the source continued. “The first anchor who went on air could not continue even because of the intimidation. So someone else had to take over”.

Police sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has ordered an investigation into the events of February 7, and that police will not comment on the events of that day until the investigation is concluded.

Dr Waheed’s alleged involvement

MNBC Managing Director Adam Shareef told Minivan News that he was “advised to hide to guard his life” when the protestors stormed in threatening to attack Muhsin and himself for alleged alignment with Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“I was hiding inside the light room until the security forces assured me I would be given protection. When I came out Dr Waheed’s brother Ali Waheed was there. He shook my hands and said that he was there to take over MNBC on behalf of Vice President Dr Waheed. This was before Nasheed resigned.”

Shareef also claimed that Ali Waheed came earlier that morning asking to handover the state media but he refused. “I told him that MNBC had the authority to run the state media and we would not hand over it unless the security forces came. So that’s why they [police and MNDF] came with the protestors,” Shareef observed.

He said that he waited at the station to ensure the safety of his staff, while Muhsin was escorted home.

Several sources at the newsroom confirmed that members of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad party including Ahmed Faiz and Alim Shakoor, younger brother of newly appointed Attorney General and opposition-friendly lawyer Aishath Azima Shakoor, were in the news room “giving orders” that day.

Previously, Azima Shakoor represented parliament’s state broadcaster Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in a drawn out tug-of-war with state owned MNBC for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

Its also notable that after taking office, the first presidential decree passed by President Dr. Waheed was to transfer assets to MBC, although Nasheed’s administration had repeatedly contended that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to control of MNBC is effectively a “media coup”.

Meanwhile, MNBC was criticised for favouring MDP.

State media liberated or hijacked?

The MNBC staff, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, insisted that “in the name of liberating state media, the police, MNDF and the protestors hijacked [MNBC]”.

“We know the lawful state broadcaster is MBC. But this is not the way they should take over. If the rule of law was respected as Dr Waheed promised in his first presidential address, he would not have let the security forces take control over us,” said a senior member of the MNBC staff.

Minivan News could not reach Maldives Broadcasting Commission at time of press.

The commission has however given a license to MBC, which is now preparing to take over management of the national broadcasting station’s assets, local media reports. President Waheed has replaced the MNBC board and tasked it with overseeing the transfer of assets to MBC, which the MDP has previously alleged has a board stacked with opposition figures.

Meanwhile, speaking to Minivan News, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir claimed that the organisation has not reacted to the take over of MNBC because the police were “enforcing the law”.

“MNBC was operating the state media unlawfully, despite repeated calls from us and court orders to hand it over to the parliament-created state broadcaster,” Zahir continued.

He claimed that MNBC was “abusing the state assets, and tax payer’s money” to make the state media a “propaganda machine” of MDP, in the non-existence of a fair editorial policy.

“I am not saying it was done in the most appropriate way. It was a chaotic situation. But we will always welcome bringing unlawful actions within the legal bounds. Police is the body to enforce the laws and I see no reason to object to the police taking over the state media to hand over it to the lawful body,” Zahir said.

He added that it would have been a problem if they had destroyed MNBC’s equipment or intimidated the staff, but said the organisation had not received any official complaints although some concerns have been raised informally.

Former National Security Advisor and former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal meanwhile observed that it looks “very strange” to see the police in the video firing a gun outside the MNBC office.

“It’s very strange to see. It’s very clearly seen in the footage that they were firing from the main outside gate inside [the MNBC compound] and our police force has never been issued with guns. The big question is how they got the guns. Evidently it was from the MNDF because they are the only people authorised to carry guns.”

He further added that the Maldives witnessed a “police mutiny turn into an armed mutiny” on February 7, which forced a democratically-elected president to resign.

“Any democratic country will not accept a government which used the police force and mutiny to forcefully resign a democratically-elected president. They have to condemn [the new administration], with this video footage and with all the torturing by the police. They should not accept the legitimacy of the government and should ask the people of the Maldives to decide who their president should be,” Faisal contended.

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.