Government invites IFJ to Maldives “to judge for itself”, after journalist body backs MBC

The Foreign Ministry of the Maldives has invited a delegation from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to the Maldives “to judge [for themselves] whether the local media is able to meet the needs of the public it serves, and of freedom of expression in the Maldives.”

The invitation was given after the IFJ issued a statement supporting the transfer of assets of the Maldives National Broadcast Corporation (MNBC) to parliament’s Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

The MNBC is a 100 percent government-owned corporation that controls the assets of the former State Broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).

In April 2010 the then-opposition majority parliament triggered a tug-of-war for control of the state broadcaster after it created MBC, appointed a board, and then ordered MNBC transfer the assets to the new body. Following a refusal to do so by the President’s Office, a Civil Court ruling last week ordered the transfer take place within 20 days. The government has said it intends to appeal.

“The IFJ has consistently argued the case for public service journalism which is independent of state control and insulated from a dependence on advertising revenue which is known to often impair editorial independence,” said IFJ’s Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

“The Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA), an IFJ affiliate, has placed on record its belief that the empowerment of the autonomous corporation [MBC], which has been designated as a public service broadcaster under Maldives’ national law, is key to raising awareness during a challenging time of transition for the Indian Ocean republic.”

The Foreign Ministry claimed that “Unfortunately the current MBC Board was appointed at a time when the opposition majority of the People’s Majlis was being used for obvious political reasons.”

“However, the government looks forward to the day when the MBC can function as an independent, impartial and objective State broadcaster, backed by an independent and well-respected Board.”

The Maldivian media – including MNBC – is frequently accused of overt political bias favouring one or other of the major political parties, a legacy of decades of autocratic governance and a state-controlled media establishment.

Several opposition-allied MPs and businessmen remain key owners of much of the country’s private media, and visiting journalism trainers have voiced concerns from young Maldivian journalists that senior editorial management obstruct them from reporting ethically.

Iraq Editorial Manager for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), Tiare Rath, observed in September 2010 following a series of journalism workshops that “one of the major issues all my students talked about is resistance among newsroom leadership – editors and publishers.”

“Even if the journalists support and understand the principles being taught, they consistently tell me they cannot apply them,” Rath said.

“This is a very, very serious problem that needs to be addressed.”

Inviting the IFJ to the Maldives, the Foreign Ministry said it requested that the IFJ “only uphold the very principles they espouse when they report on the situation on the ground. In this regard, perhaps it would be useful for the IFJ to send a delegation to Male’.”

Minivan News is currently seeking a response from the IFJ to the Foreign Ministry’s invitation.


Commenwealth media development workshop opens tomorrow

The Commonwealth will host a four-day media development workshop tomorrow at Holiday Inn, in conjunction with the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA).

The event will launch tomorrow morning at 10:00am with a speech by Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad.

The four day workshop will be led by two senior editors from Singapore. Bhagman Singh, Senior Editor, NewsHub, MediaCorp News, which owns and operates the regional satellite news network, Channel NewsAsia, will sessions on TV and radio journalism, while Jayandra Menon, Deputy Foreign Editor of The Straits Times, an English language daily, will share his skills on newspaper and online reporting.

Minivan News Editor JJ Robinson will also be present a session on Tuesday morning.

Deputy spokesperson for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Manoah Esipisu, said the workshop would “bring together two Commonwealth neighbours, Singapore and Maldives, in the sharing of expertise and experiences in media development.”

“This cross-cultural exchange will help to broaden and deepen understanding on journalism and the influence of politics and governance, culture, tradition, environment, education and technology,” Esipisu said.

“We are delighted that Mr Bhagman and Mr Menon have put their substantial experience in reporting Asia and global affairs at the disposal of their colleagues in Maldives, and look to their work in enhancing a sound tradition of media professionalism, leading to greater consistency in the accuracy, fairness and balance of news reports,” he added.


GIP ‘not informed’ about termination of coalition agreement

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said this morning that his party had not been officially informed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s decision to tear up its coalition agreement with Waheed’s party, the Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP).

Twenty-one members of the MDP’s national council voted in favour of the move, out of 23 present. The council also called on President Mohamed Nasheed to remove all GIP members from ministerial positions. Vice President Waheed and Education Minister Dr Mustafa Luthfy are the only two GIP members remaining in Cabinet, after Nasheed dismissed Minister for Economic Development Mohamed Rasheed several weeks ago.

“We no longer trust these guys,” Haleem said. “Our coalition partner is working with the opposition – I think [Waheed] will be joining [the opposition] Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) very soon. I hope so, it would be best for him.”

Haleem added that he hoped the president would “obey” the MDP Council and remove the GIP members from government: “I hope so. MDP’s national council is one of the most powerful arms of the MDP,” Haleem said.

Dr Waheed recently raised the ire of MDP supporters when he held an apparently clandestine meeting with senior leadership of the DRP, including Umar Naseer and MPs Ali Waheed, Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahlouf.

“I think the political sitaution requires that we talk to each other and work together,” Dr Waheed told Minivan News today. “There are bills we have to get through [parliament], especially revenue bills to address the deficit. I believe it is important, and I think I am in a position to speak. I met with opposition MPs partly at their request, and I indicated I would meet them.”

He said he was surprised at the inflamed response from MDP supporters – “I did not realise this would attract so much attention from the press and MDP activists,” he said.

Dr Waheed said the reaction of both parties following the meeting was “not helpful.”

“Under the current circumstances everyone is trying to score political points,” he said.

GIP had not been formally informed of MDP’s decision last night to sever the coalition, he noted.

“If this is true then of course we are concerned. We believe we have a valid agreement to work with MDP together until the end of term.”

The removal of GIP members from government would be an “unfortunate” outcome, Dr Waheed said.

“I had expected some kind of discussion. Since we were not consulted when the Economic Development [Mohamed Rasheed] Minister was dismissed, I felt I had grounds to talk, especially since no reason given except ‘political circumstances’.”

Dr Waheed called for discussions, concluding that “we can’t go on pretending the country has no problems, because that will not solve them.”

The President has not yet said whether he will take the advice of MDP’s national council. Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair was not responding at time of press.