The government has seized control of the state television and the radio stations through a new law, in a move journalists and the opposition say will undermine press freedom in the Maldives.
President Abdulla Yameen today ratified the Public Service Media Act and dissolved the old Maldives broadcasting corporation and its five member board.
The president has proposed seven individuals to a new governing board, who are expected to gain approval from the ruling party dominated parliament. Umar Manik, the chairman of the former broadcasting corporation board, is the only incumbent who will sit on the new board.
Others nominated include Ibrahim Khaleel, CEO of private Villa TV, Ikram Abdul Lateef, former official at Villa TV, and Aiminath Shayan, a TV presenter and the wife of a ruling party activist.
A parliamentary committee today approved the nominations without an interview.
A senior editor who wished to remain anonymous said the new law is an attempt by the government to take control of the public broadcaster.
“The new law does not accept the concept of a public broadcaster. It will now simply act as a mouthpiece for the government,” he added.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says the new law is aimed at spreading “government propaganda.” Opposition MPs continued their daily protests inside the parliament during the vote.
The opposition has been protesting since Majlis reconvened on March 2 over the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has pushed through several pieces of legislation without significant debate amidst protests.
According to parliament minutes, PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed during a brief debate on the new bill said a new body to govern state media is necessary as the former broadcasting corporation had provided coverage of the campaign to free Nasheed.
“But all the events, overseas trips of the president and the services the government is providing each and every day is completely ignored by the state media,” he said.
The new law also requires the state to distribute a printed daily newspaper and use social media to disseminate programmes.
“The law requires public service media to establish and run their news and programs through social media. This is an attempt to spread propaganda at all levels of the media,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.
The managing editor of local daily Haveeru, Ismail Naseer, expressed surprise at the decision to start a government newspaper saying: “Even in other countries, we don’t see the state distributing a printed newspaper. If you look at it newspapers are a thing of the past, this is the era of digital journalism. So I don’t understand why the public media service has to run a print edition.
“Also the cost of running a newspaper will be very expensive. And I believe if the state is running a paper it has to be made available for every person including the people in the atolls. We have been in this business for 35 years and still find that task to be impossible.”
Former chairman of the broadcasting corporation, Umar Manik, however, defended the new law saying it would improve the day to day running of the state media.
“I take this as a positive move to further improve the public broadcaster. We were not influenced before and I am very confident that we will not be influenced by the government in the future as well,” he said.