MNBC journalists beaten, tasered during protest

State television journalist Moosa Naushad was attacked by approximately 15 individuals while filming the opposition-led protest outside Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) last evening.

Naushad was struck down from behind. After showing his media badge the badge was taken from him and he was continuously kicked and beaten while lying on the ground, MNBC Director Adam Shareef said.

MNBC Editor Thoyyib Shaheem intervened by showing his own media badge, but was tasered in the stomach. Naushad was taken to Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) at 1:00am on January 24 where he was treated for a broken hand. Shareef said the journalist had sustained fractures in his shoulder blades and feet, but had no internal damage. Naushad had not been released from IGMH at time of press.

The protesters, including opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs Ilham Ahmed and Ahmed Mahlouf, allegedly made violent gestures with stones and wooden sticks while advancing on the MNBC building. MNBC have asked why their offices and staff have been targeted, “as if MNBC was ruling this country.”

MDP supporters were also reported protesting near the judiciary, before heading south towards the Haruge and clashing with opposition supporters.

“Over the past several nights our reporters have been verbally abused, threatened and warned they would would be killed by hanging or drowning,” said an MNBC official.

Shareef said he had “no idea” why the media organisation has been targeted, but “we are a government company so perhaps that’s the reason.”

The opposition has claimed that the attackers came from the MDP Haruge and attacked Naushad after reportedly mistaking him for a VTV reporter.

Last night marked the tenth consecutive demonstration since two minority opposition party members were questioned for “hate speech” against the government. The situation developed after military forces took Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed into custody on January 16, after the government accused him of endemic corruption and political favoritism.

Although journalists have been targeted for the past several nights, Naushad’s beating was the most severe instance, Shareef said.

A photo of the attack on Naushad taken by a bystander

According to Shareef the two sides have not had any direct communication over the situation: “the opposition doesn’t want to talk to us, they are boycotting us as a state broadcaster. But we don’t want to speak with them either,” he said, adding that Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Broadcasting Commission have released statements on the matter.

President of the MJA Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir on Wednesday said that the MJA had released a statement condemning both the attack on Naushad and damage to the offices of DhiTV as soon as he learned of the attacks.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, meanwhile blamed the attack on opposition parties and condemned them for “lurching towards violence, thuggery and intimidation in order to achieve their political ends.”

In a statement, he called on opposition parties to “respect journalists’ right to report the news free from fear or intimidation.”

While MNBC journalists “are not afraid”, Shareef said the state broadcaster will no longer be covering anti-government protests on-site.

“I don’t want to lose my staff. If possible we will have a live feed, but in any case we will cover the whole story, every point,” he said.

Police estimated that between 300 and 400 protesters turned out last night, and claimed that aside from the attack on Naushad only “a few minor injuries” were sustained. After being dispersed at midnight the crowd spread “throughout the city, between the Maldives Monetary Authority building and the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Haruge.”

Police understand that another protest is scheduled for 9:00pm on Tuesday evening.

As the protests continue opposition leaders are calling for extreme measures.

Speaking during last night’s protests, firebrand opposition politician Umar Naseer said bloodshed was not beyond the group’s means, according to MNBC reports. The station also reported that the Adhaalath Party’s Sheik Imran Abdulla, another protest leader, had called for jihad. Hours earlier Sheikh Imran had stated that “non-stop protests are maybe not the best way, even if it’s fighting for the citizens’ rights, as their time and businesses are affected” at a press conference.

PPM MPs Mahlouf and Illham were not responding to calls at time of press.


MBC requests police protection for media personnel and property

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has requested police protection for broadcasting stations, media equipment and journalists following recent attacks during political protests on capital Male’.

MBC has discussed the issue directly with police officials and has submitted an official letter detailing the request, reports local media.

MBC President Badhuruh Naseer condemned the threats and attacks made on media personnel last weekend, citing the rights of journalists as guaranteed under Article 28 of the Constitution in defense.

Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) staff and property were also attacked during the protests.

A press release from the President’s Office today declared the government’s commitment to a free media “absolute and unwavering”.

Last week, Maldives media authorities raised alarms when the Minister of Transport and Communication Adhil Saleem claimed that broadcasting licences of media stations “misleading the public” would be revoked.

Adhil later said he only meant to advise the media on the matter, not to issue a threat.

Rejecting accusations that the “advice” was a threat, President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair noted that Saleem merely pointed out that certain TV news channels had acted unprofessionally when airing footage of recent protests.

“President Nasheed’s administration never has and never will do anything to undermine the independence, integrity or professionalism of the media,” he said.


Broadcasting Commission, Journalist Association condemns MNDF “threats” to private media

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) has condemned the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for asking private television stations not to broadcast any content from Friday’s ‘Defend Islam’ protest that could disrupt national security and “encourage the toppling of the lawfully-formed government.”

Privately-owned media outlets, DhiTV and Villa TV, broadcast live coverage of the eight-hour long protest organised by a coalition of NGOs and seven opposition parties.

In a statement yesterday, MJA contended that the letter sent to the television stations, signed by Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel, amounted to “undue influence” and “threats” to free media, noting that regulating the media was the role of the Media Council and Broadcasting Commission.

MJA claimed that MNDF was politically pressured to send the letters, observing that the directive was sent before the protest had started.

“The announcement was very irresponsible and we call on MNDF to apologise,” MJA said in the statement.

The journalist association also strongly criticised state broadcaster Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) for “biased coverage” of Friday’s opposition and ruling party protests.

In addition to repeated runs of President Mohamed Nasheed’s speech at the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) rally in support of ‘moderate Islam,’ the state broadcaster also showed live telecast of an impromptu rally held at the MDP Haruge facility on Friday night.

“MNBC is run by state money and transmitting biased video footage and images is something that Maldives Broadcasting Commission should investigate,” the MJA said, reiterating its call for the government to transfer assets of MNBC to MBC, which was formed by an Act of parliament.

Broadcasting Commission Chair Badr Naseer meanwhile told local media that threats to the media from the military was “not something that we should see in a society maturing for democracy.”

MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that the army did not wish to comment on the MJA statement.

“That day we issued the statement because we found that it was necessary given the situation at that time,” he said.


High Court issues injunction against sale of MNBC assets

The High Court issued an injunction on Sunday forbidding the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) from selling, transferring or destroying any state media assets.

According to the injunction, MNBC cannot take any action that violates the Civil Court’s ruling in May that the station was to transfer all state media assets to the parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). MNBC appealed against the Civil Court ruling in the High Court. That decision is still pending.

This week’s court’s decision came following a case filed by MBC to halt alleged misuse of state media assets by the MNBC board, and prevent the company from laying off workers before the final verdict on the transfer of assets.

MNBC Chairman Madulu Mohamed Waheed told local media outlet Sun that MNBC’s had decided to close seven media centres based in different atolls, and sent notice of dismissal to staff employed at those stations. Affected employees would receive three months’ salary as a redundancy package, he said, but did not state the reason for the decision.

MNBC and MBC have been engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

The government contends that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to gain control of MNBC is effectively a media coup, while MNBC has been criticised for favouring the ruling party.

MNBC’s proponents claim that given the opposition’s influence over private broadcast media the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of a few opposition-leaning MPs, the government has no alternative.

Even the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) waded into the debate at the behest of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), in support of MBC and an independent state broadcaster.


MNBC to report MP Mahlouf to police for alleged assault of journalist

A journalist at the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) has claimed that Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf assaulted him after Tuesday’s night live coverage of the National Security Committee meeting.

”He came towards me while I was waiting in the corridor and asked me rudely why I was broadcasting the parliament live” said the MNBC reporter, who wished to remain anonymous. ”I said that decision was not up to me and he told me to inform all my superiors that any equipment brought inside the parliament will be destroyed.”

He said the Galolhu South MP then pushed him against the wall and elbowed him on the stomach.

”I told him to get off me, but he then again hit me in the chest,” he said. ”Then he left the area.”

Board members of the state broadcaster were considering reporting the case to police, he said.

Mahlouf however denies the allegations.

An MNBC journalist at the committee meeting suggested that the incident would have been caught on CCTV cameras inside the building.

Prior to the alleged assault, opposition MPs disrupted a National Security Committee meeting to object to live coverage by the state broadcaster.

The meeting was held to vote on a proposal to summon PPM Parliamentary Group Leader MP Abdulla Yameen for questioning.

Committee Chair MP Ali Waheed told press that the rules of procedure did not prohibit live telecasts or dictate terms for media coverage.

The disruption of the live broadcast saw MDP activists gather outside the parliament building to protest.

With opposition MPs still inside parliament over an hour and half after the meeting ended, a group of PPM supporters gathered for a counter-protest.

Riot police in the area separated the rival protesters and cordoned off the area shortly before midnight.


Police summon Gassan Maumoon for questioning

Police summoned Gassan Maumoon, son of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for questioning today concerning disturbances outside his residence Endherimaage on Thursday during a protest by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

A 17-year-old boy was struck on the head with a wooden plank allegedly thrown from Endherimaage while protesters led by MDP MPs, councillors and senior members were marching by the former President’s residence.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News today that Gassan was among a number of people police were questioning regarding Thursday’s events.

Police were investigating complaints of damage caused to the former President’s property as well as the injury caused to the 17-year-old, Shiyam explained.

Police had received information that suggests the wooden plank that injured the 17-year-old was hurled or dropped from the building, he said.

However, said Shiyam, police could not divulge further details at this stage of the investigation.

Minivan News journalists at the scene on Thursday observed gravel, stones, hot water and sharp metals raining down on the protesters from Endherimaage. A number of reporters at the scene were also hit by the pouring gravel.

MDP protest October 20Several MDP activists claimed that the wooden plank was hurled from the second floor balcony of Endherimaage. After the victim was rushed to hospital by MPs on the front line of the march, MDP activists clashed with Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance to Endherimaage and threw stones at the building, smashing a window on the first floor.

MP Ali Waheed, who defected to the ruling party in May, told state broadcaster MNBC that the boy was behind MP Alhan Fahmy when the object struck him straight on the head.

The 17-year-old, identified as Hussein Hassan, was rushed to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) by the MPs on a passing pick-up, he said.

Speaking to MNBC One outside IGMH, Waheed displayed blood stains on his shirt resulting from the head injury caused by the impact.

Other eyewitnesses who spoke to the state broadcaster corroborated the MPs’ account of the incident.

The brother of the injured boy told Minivan News Thursday night that according to doctors “his skull was damaged and parts of the skull have gone inside his brain.”

The boy underwent surgery to remove wood particles from his brain.

IGMH media coordinator confirmed today that the boy was conscious and his “condition is now stable.”

The spokesperson refuted media reports that the boy’s left side was paralyzed. “His left side is very weakened, but that is not paralysis,” she explained.

A family member outside the ICU told Minivan News that the family was certain the object that struck Hussein Hassan “came from above.”

“Everyone who was there said that that was how it happened,” he said.

Right to remain silent

Gassan Maumoon meanwhile told reporters outside police headquarters this afternoon that he exercised the right to remain silent after “it appeared from some of their questions that they were accusing me.”

Gassan was accompanied by the former President’s lawyer Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim ‘Wadde’ and former Attorney General Aishath Azima Shukoor.

The former President’s newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) held a protest at artificial beach last night in response to the ruling party’s “intimidation of judges.”

Hundreds of supporters participated in the protest, where they called for the resignation of Chief of Defence Forces Moosa Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh for failing to provide security to the former President.

Asked by MP Ilham Ahmed if they should march to the presidential residence Muleeage, the protesters unanimously supported the notion.

PPM Interim Council Member Umar Naseer – former deputy leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party – however announced around 10:45pm that the protest march was to be cancelled after police sent a summons to Gassan.

Meanwhile, after text messages were circulated on Friday claiming the PPM was preparing to attack and “smash Haruge [MDP camp],” a large number of ruling party supporters gathered at Haruge for a hastily arranged rally at 9pm last night.

Speakers at the rally, including Presidential Commission Spokesperson Abdulla Haseen, President’s Advisor Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, MP Ahmed Easa and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad, severely criticised the judiciary for lack of competence and integrity.

An egg was thrown into Haruge during Ibra’s speech.

In an interview with private broadcaster DhiTV shortly after Thursday’s protest turned violent, Gayoom claimed that damage was caused to his residence and adjoining houses in “a terrorist attack” orchestrated by the government.

“They came with their activists and attacked my home,” Gayoom said. “They attacked nearby houses as well.”

Moosa Jaleel and Ahmed Faseeh should “personally bear responsibility” for the damage to his residence because riot police were not present to intercede, the PPM figurehead said.

Appearing on private broadcaster VTV later that night, Gayoom said he would file criminal complaints with police, the Prosecutor General and pursue civil action against the protesters.


MBC to sue Finance Minister for withholding its budget

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has declared it will sue Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz for withholding its annual budget approved by the parliament for the year 2011.

The parliament-created MBC and the 100 percent government corporation the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) have been engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

The government contends that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to gain control of MNBC is effectively a media coup, while MNBC has been criticised for favouring the ruling party. Proponents claim that given the opposition’s influence over private broadcast media the consolidation of media ownership in the hands of a few opposition-leaning MPs, the government has no alternative.

Even the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has waded into the debate at the behest of the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), in support of MBC and an independent state broadcaster.

In a statement issued yesterday the MBC said that the corporation had been unable to pay rent for its office building as well as other bills, and had been fined as a consequence.

“MBC decided to sue the Finance Minister after informing the ministry about all these issues and repeatedly seeking to solve them, but the ministry has failed to explain why the budget was withheld,’’ the statement read. ‘’The MBC has been unable to find a solution to this through the parliament and Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).’’

The MBC said the court was the last resort after exhausting all other avenues.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz told Minivan News that he did not wish to comment on the matter.

The MBC was formed by a law enacted by the parliament, which attempted to force a transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new corporation.

The MBC won its first suit against the government on June 12, with the Civil Court ordering that all the assets and staff including the land of MNBC was to be be transferred to MBC within 20 days.

However, the government claimed that the MNBC was a private TV station and that as long as the MNBC board opposed the transfer of assets and staff it would be violation of the corporation’s rights.

Now the government has appealed the Civil Court’s ruling in High Court on July 6, which ordered the Civil Court’s decision be delayed pending a final ruling.

Meanwhile Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said last week that staff at the former Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM) could not work with the parliament-approved MBC board.

Responding to a question by a journalist at a forum organised by the Maldives Media Council (MMC) on July 25, Nasheed explained that the MBC Act was intended to transform the corporatised state media into a public broadcaster but the board voted through by opposition MPs was engaged in “political football.”

“Everything went right, but because of those who were chosen for the director’s board, the whole thing turned into political football,” MP Nasheed said.


Opposition expects government will transfer state media assets in spite of High Court ruling

Opposition MPs remain confident that the government will eventually hand over key assets of the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation’s (MNBC) TV and radio operations, despite a High Court decision yesterday to suspend an existing lower court ruling requesting such a transfer.

Back in May, the Civil Court appeared to have ended a year-long tug of war between opposition MPs and the government over state media by ordering the MNBC to transfer assets and staff from its radio and tv operatons to the parliament-established Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

Despite Yesterday’s High Court ruling to withhold the Civil Court’s earlier verdict on transferring Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) to MBC, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom believed the government would in the long-run have to hand over the broadcast assets.

“The government has to follow the rule of law on this issue,” he said. “I think ultimately the government will have to hand over the [MNBC assets] as has been required under the [Majlis] legislation.”

The High Court had now ruled in favour of the government over the dispute, announcing that any transfer of assets from the MNBC would be withheld until it ordered otherwise.

According to Mausoom, the High Court’s decision was presently being seen as a temporary ruling, claiming the judiciary had already had the final say on the fate of TVM and VOM after the lower court ruled that the MNBC was legally obligated to hand over the assets.

However, online local news service Sun has reported that upon passing the High Court judgement, Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef claimed he had acted on “legal” and “equitable considerations” in withholding the Civil Court decision, a decision he claimed was made on the basis of reasons provided by the MNBC.

The case had been ongoing for over a year and become an increasing contentious issue following an initial government decision to transfer the assets and staff from Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) to the 100 percent government-owned corporate entity MNBC.  TVM is now broadcast as the MNBC One channel.

By April 2010, the opposition-majority parliament had taken action to create MBC and passed an order for the government to transfer MNBC’s assets and staff to this body.

MNBC has been labelled pro-government by critics, while proponents argue that as most other mass media is owned by senior opposition political figures and favours the opposition, the government had no alternative voice. In being formed by parliament, the MBC has a board appointed by the Majlis, to which it is also answerable. The government has claimed this structure serves only to ensure political influence in the running of the state broadcaster and refused to comply with the legislation on these grounds.

Opposition figures and high profile political activists such as Umar Naseer, a dismissed Deputy Leader of the DRP, have held protests requesting the “freedom” of state media from what they allege is government control and influence.


Planned Maldives Islamic channel launch to be reviewed next year

The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has said it will review the possibility of launching a Maldives-based Islamic television channel next year to ensure that the technical demands required for the endeavor can be met.

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Didi, told Minivan News that the postponement of plans to begin broadcasting an Islamic TV channel in the country were not so much an issue of budgetary limitations – but that of human resources.

“If we were to start this channel we would need human resources and the technical staff to support it,” he said. “We have spoken to the Maldives National Broadcasting Corperation (MNBC), who can supply this, so we have the technical capacity, but we need to think how we will move ahead.”

Didi said that broadcasting a new tv channel in the country was “not an easy task” and there were concerns that the project needed more extensive planning.

“If we rush [starting the channel], we might not be able to sustain it so that is why we are waiting until next year,” he claimed.

Didi added that the exact nature of how the channel would operate and the duration of its programming on a daily basis had yet to be finalised and would be a key part of any ongoing talks.

Meanwhile, Miadhu has reported today that Islamic Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Baari believed repeated postponements of forming the channel were related to low budgets and ongoing legal action regarding the control of state media.

According to the report, Rf2 million from the Zakat fund had been allocated to fund the proposed Islamic channel, but the money has now been transferred instead to a scholarship programme.