The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has heavily criticised a report by the Broadcasting Commission on television prime time coverage of last year’s presidential election campaign, calling on the broadcasting regulator to revise “misleading” elements of the report.
In a four-page press release slamming the “irresponsible” report, the state broadcaster contended that the findings were presented in a way that could cause “loss of public confidence” in the television and radio channels operated by MBC.
The report was based on monitoring of prime time (8pm to 11pm) content as well as direct access time on all television stations in the month leading up to the first round of the presidential election on September 7, 2013.
“The monitoring of the electoral content of all the TV stations was carried out to observe the performances of the stations in order to measure the total coverage time allocated for presidential candidates, the ethical conduct of the content aired and the amount of electoral content during prime time and direct access,” the report explained.
According to the report, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) allocated the highest percentage of airtime to the Elections Commission (20.6 percent), followed by the President/Government (20.4 percent), Gasim Ibrahim (18.24 percent), Abdulla Yameen (16.34 percent), and then-President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik (14.68 percent).
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate, former President Mohamed Nasheed, received the lowest prime time coverage with 9.68 percent.
Similarly, in the last week of the presidential campaign, 12.24 percent of TVM’s coverage of Nasheed’s campaign was negative while other presidential candidates, Gasim Ibrahim and the incumbent Dr Waheed, received 100 percent positive coverage.
Candidate Yameen meanwhile received 5.41 negative coverage during the final week.
Defending its election coverage, MBC insisted in its press statement that TVM’s news was impartial, unbiased and adhered to principles of journalism.
The state broadcaster however conceded that some presidential candidates received “marginally” more coverage as they carried out more campaign activities, which was unavoidable based on “newsworthiness”.
MBC also explained that it was not practical to ensure that each candidate received equal amount of time during a news bulletin or news programme.
Instead, the state broadcaster sought to provide equal time overall during the presidential campaign period, the statement noted.
Highlighting a number of issues with the report, MBC objected to the broadcasting commission deciding to focus only on prime time coverage and limiting the review period to one month while the presidential election campaign continued on to a second round.
Moreover, MBC contended that the guidelines formulated to monitor election coverage could not be used to accurately determine bias or negative coverage.
The broadcasting commission considered the tone of coverage to determine if a subject was portrayed in a positive, neutral or negative light for a qualitative measurement.
MBC however contended that the perceived tone was dependent on a subjective judgment by the monitoring individual based on his or her political affiliation.
MBC questioned the objective of the broadcasting commission in issuing the report as a draft was not shared with broadcasters prior to publication.
The press release also questioned the quality of the work done in compiling the report, noting that members of the team of monitors were given a one-day training course.
According to the report, 11 staff members of the commission “functioned as monitors with a chief monitor who coordinated and supervised the monitoring work.”
“Each monitor was assigned a specific channel to monitor on a weekly rotation basis. To carry out the monitoring tasks professionally and impartially, the monitoring team was provided a one day training exercise where they had to complete mock monitoring forms after watching one hour prime time content,” the report explained.
MBC meanwhile noted that the Commonwealth, European Union and local NGO Transparency Maldives had praised the state broadcaster’s election coverage following their observation of the presidential election.
The press release concluded with assurances to the public that MBC would offer clarification on “misleading” issues after further examination of the report.