The Maldives has fallen in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index for the fourth consecutive year, dropping 5 places to 108th out of the 180 countries ranked.
The index reflects the degree of freedom that journalists enjoy in each country and the efforts made by authorities to ensure respect for this freedom.
After serious attacks against opposition-aligned journalists last year, 2014 marked a new low in Maldivian journalism as the Minivan News journalist and blogger Ahmed Rilwan disappeared in what is widely regarded as an abduction.
The RSF index is again topped by European nations – Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands – while Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, and China are again among the lowest scoring countries.
After the Maldives rose as high as 51st in the index in 2009, recent years have seen a steady decline, slipping to 73rd by 2011, 103rd in 2012, and 108th last year.
RSF also released its annual indicator of the global level of media freedom for the second time this year, which increased by 61 points – or 1.8 percent, suggesting a slight decline in respect for freedom of information worldwide.
With over 700 journalists killed worldwide over the past decade, UNESCO last year launched the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which was observed on November 2.
In early November this year, the Police Integrity Commission accepted a case filed by Rilwan’s family alleging police negligence in the investigation into the 28-year-old’s disappearance.
The Maldivian Democracy Network has also asked the police watchdog to investigate the police’s failure to investigate dangerous criminal activity outlined in a report into the disappearance.
The report by UK-based private investigators concluded radicalised gangs to have been the most likely culprits in the abduction.
Police immediately dismissed the document as politically motivated, though they have yet to make significant progress in the investigation, with Home Minister Umar Naseer telling the media that some cases just could not be solved.
Publication of the details of the MDN report by the media also resulted in threats against journalists, which have frequently followed the publication of stories about the capital’s growing gang problems.
A landmark “Threat Analysis Report” carried out by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May found that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.
2014 also saw the first criminal proceedings initiated against a journalist since the introduction of the 2008 constitution, though charges of obstructing police duty against Channel News Maldives journalist Abdulla Haseen were later dropped by the state.
Rilwan’s disappearance is the first such instance of its kind in the Maldives, although near fatal attacks were carried out on the blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 and the Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in 2013.
Following Rilwan’s disappearance in August, journalists from across the Maldives joined to declare that his abduction was a threat to all, calling for an end to persistent intimidation faced by the press.
“As intimidation of press grows, and attacks against journalists, equipment, and buildings continue, we are extremely concerned over the delays in bringing to justice those who commit these acts,” read the landmark statement.
Meanwhile, oversight of the industry – one of the key measures in the RSF index – continued to be negatively affected by internal problems within both the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Maldives Media Council (MMC).
After the last three attempts to hold new elections for the MJA were disrupted, Vice President Ali Shaman said that the continued absence of members had left the association unable to form a quorum for meetings.
“Due to the delays, the MJA’s functions have not been that effective,” said Shaman, who suggested that the introduction of a working journalist’s act could improve the conditions for journalists in the country.
An MJA meeting in August resulted in accusations of assault against one editor and the resignation of MJA President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, while the editor accused subsequently received a death threat via SMS.
Meanwhile, the work of the 15 member MMC – established under the 2008 Maldives Media Council Act to establish and preserve media freedom – has also been hindered this year by delays to internal elections.
All members of the council were confirmed in early December after issues regarding the eligibility of inactive media outlets had delayed the MMC elections by four months.
Observers sent from the EU to oversee this year’s Majlis elections suggested that lack of clarity in the media regulatory framework should be addressed, suggesting a merger between the Media Council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.
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