Raajje TV forced to cancel art exhibition after Tourism Ministry refuses access to exhibition hall

Opposition-aligned local broadcaster Raajje Television has claimed that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture forced it to cancel an art exhibition ‘Dhe Fiyavalhu Fahathah’ (Two steps back) organised by the station, after the Ministry refused to issue access to National Art Gallery over “security concerns”.

The theme of the exhibition of both local and international artists was the controversial ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012.

According to the events official Facebook page, it was to display a “collection of artwork where the artists express their opinion and ‘bigger picture’ of democracy in the Maldives”.

The station had opened the opportunity for artists aged over 18 to submit their work from June 20 to July 26.

Speaking to local media, Deputy CEO of the station Abdulla Yameen claimed it had sought all  necessary permissions and had even entered into an agreement with the National Center for Arts (NCA) to hold the exhibition.

He also said that in order to address any possible security concerns, the station had notified the police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

“However, until even to the last minute none of the authorities informed us of any security concerns. We had everything arranged for the exhibition and it was expected to kick off later on Friday evening. All our equipment was already inside the art gallery,” said the Deputy CEO.

According to Yameen, when the technical crew returned to the Art Gallery after breaking their fast, they were not allowed inside and were informed that access to the gallery had been restricted on the order of Toursim Minister Ahmed Adheeb.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of the NCA Ali Waheed – President Mohamed Waheed’s brother – told local media that the keys to the gallery had been withheld on the orders of the Tourism Ministry over security concerns as the government’s Independence Day activities were to take place not far from the art gallery.

“Since it would be difficult to inform [the organisers of the exhibition] in writing, we verbally informed them that the art gallery would only be available after July 27. We even got the instruction from the Ministry on Friday. They said it was for security reasons,” Waheed said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Ahmed Nazim was quoted in local media as saying it was not advisable to hold such an exhibition in a venue near the Independence Day activities, and said he had notified the Tourism Minister.

Nazim however denied giving any orders to restrict access to the art gallery, claiming the decision to block access to the art gallery was made solely by the Tourism Ministry.


Raajje TV wins court battle against President’s Office over discriminatory treatment

The Civil Court has today ruled in favour of private broadcaster Raajje TV in its lawsuit against the President’s Office for barring the opposition-aligned television station from President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s press conferences and functions.

“[The court] orders the President’s Office not to discriminate against Raajje TV in providing opportunity to cover functions, events and press conferences,” reads the judgment (Dhivehi).

Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain noted that the President’s Office’s decision to not cooperate with Raajje TV was proven at court by its own admission.

Summoned by parliament’s Government Oversight Committee last week following a complaint filed by Raajje TV, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad claimed that Raajje TV was not invited to press conferences because the station did not fit criteria or standards of reporting set out by the President’s Office.

According to Masood, the policy of the President’s Office was to invite “responsible and experienced” media outlets, which include private broadcasters DhiTV and VTV, state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), newspapers Haveeru and Miadhu, as well as internet publications Sun Online and Minivan News.

Meanwhile, followings its own inquiry into the matter, the Maldives Media Council (MMC) asked the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office to press charges against the President’s Office over what it found to be discriminatory treatment.

The non-cooperation by the President’s Office with Raajjee TV have also been met with condemnation from both international and local NGOs, including the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA).

At the Civil Court trial, the President’s Office, represented by the attorney general, alleged that Raajje TV had attempted to capture video footage of the premises, disrupting internal security at the office.

However, the judge dismissed the claim on the grounds that the President’s Office had the right to file a complaint at the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) over the alleged violation of broadcasting rules.

As the President’s Office was an institution that “served the people,” the judge ruled that the it should also comply with the Maldivian constitution, which guarantees equal treatment and administrative fairness.

Press freedom and freedom of expression were also protected as fundamental rights in the constitution, the judge noted.

Speaking to Minivan News, Chairman of Raajje TV Akram Kamaaluddeen said today’s verdict was a huge success for Raajje TV well as for the Maldivian media.

“Today, the court has guaranteed that no one can meddle with the rights vested in the constitution and that no one can discriminate the media,” he said.

Akram added that he expected Raajje TV to be invited to future press conferences and events at the President’s Office.

Invitation only

Despite the Civil Court judgment, Masood Imad denied that the government failed to cooperate with Raajje TV.

“We talk to them and provide them with answers to their queries. In future too, we will maintain our position of cooperation,” he told Minivan News.

Masood added that he has been in touch with officials at Raajje TV today and invited them for a meeting at the President’s Office tomorrow (April 15)  to “talk out” any differences.

Akram said that he had not been aware of any communication with the President’s Office since the court ruling at time of press.

The Civil Court previously ruled that a similar decision taken by the Maldives Police Service to not cooperate with Raajje TV station was unconstitutional. The Civil Court Judge, issuing the ruling against the Police at the time, said that he believed such a decision was “extremely dangerous and significantly serious” and could result in “chaos and infringement of social harmony.”


Police decision to ostracise Raajje TV unconstitutional, rules civil court

The Civil Court has ruled that a decision by the Maldives Police Service to cease cooperating with opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Police announced in July that they had stopped cooperating with the local broadcaster, alleging that the station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about the police which had undermined its credibility and public confidence. Raajje TV subsequently filed a suit in the civil court challenging the legality of the decision and requested the court to order police take back their decision.

Delivering the verdict, Civil Court Judge Mariyam Nihayath said the court was of the view that the police decision had been to completely suspend cooperation with the TV station, rather than just barring the channel from specific events and functions.

The judge added that the court believed such a decision was “extremely dangerous and significantly serious” and could result in “chaos and infringement of social harmony.”

Dismissing the police argument that it had the sole discretion to decide who to invite to press conferences and functions, the court stated that the action more resembled a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to information.

“Therefore, the court finds the decision by the Maldives Police Service to not to cooperate with Raajje TV a violation of the constitution of the Maldives and the Maldives Police Services Act, and orders the Maldives Police Service to provide protection for the employees and property of the station, and to not discriminate against the  TV station when providing information,” read the verdict.

Following the decision, police media official Superintendent Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police would fully respect the court’s decision.

He further said that a police legal team would be reviewing the judgement and if the need arose, would appeal the decision in the High Court.

“We will come to a decision very soon. We will also be seeking advice from the attorney general and then seek a final decision on whether to appeal the case,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Yamin Rasheed told the media that the judgement was a “huge achievement” for both the station and those working in the media.

“Raajje TV single-handedly stood up against the decision without support from any authority or organisation. We knew the police decision was wrong and that is why we filed the case. I believe this is a huge achievement for both Raajje TV and the media of the country,” he said.

Following the decision last year, police issued a statement claiming the channel had “deliberately and continuously broadcast false and baseless content with the intention to incite hatred [towards police].”

“Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries,” read the statement.

The decision came just a day after Raajje TV broadcast CCTV footage of several police officers, whom the station alleged were “caught on video” while attempting to steal petrol from a motorbike parked in an alley in Male’.

Police later denied the allegations and condemned Raajje TV for spreading “false and untrue” information about them.

Superintendent of Police Abdulla Navaz in a press briefing at the time stated that the video footage was showing police carrying out their legal duty.

Raajje TV had twisted the details and information in their news report, Navaz alleged, claiming that police were confiscating a five litre container of petrol rather than stealing it.

Following the broadcast of the video, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to the TV station accusing it of broadcasting the content without checking its authenticity and ordered it to apologise for its  actions.

However, speaking to Minivan News at the time, Yamin confirmed the incident took place and said the station would stand by its broadcast.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters in the country and is the only television station aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The TV station has come under substantial pressure and criticism from groups including the government and political parties aligned with it.  The station has also claimed to have faced outright sabotage.