MBC chairman to remain in post after signing for PPM

Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik has said he does not intend to resign after signing for the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) today.

Manik told local media that the MBC Act does not prohibit board members – responsible for overseeing state media – from joining a political party.

Manik revealed that he was planning to seek the party’s ticket ahead of the parliamentary elections in March, adding that he would resign should he win the primary.

Two former MBC board members, Nahula Ali and Iqbal Adam, had previously resigned to pursue political careers in the PPM and government-aligned Jumhooree Party respectively.


President praises Voice of Maldives as broadcaster turns 50

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has praised state radio broadcaster Voice of Maldives (VOM) on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, expressing hope the station would work to promote “good social and Islamic values” among young people with its programmes.

Discussing the impact of fifty years of state radio, President Waheed praised the present and former staff of VOM for laying down what he called a “strong foundation” for broadcasting in the nation, according to the Presidents Office.


MBC yet to finalise plans for new “Dhivehi TV” channel

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) has announced its intention to launch a new national television channel under the name of “Dhivehi TV”, according to local media reports.

Television Maldives (TVM) Chief Operating Officer Mohamed Asif said that beyond the name, no decisions had yet been made on a possible target audience or the type of programming the channel would provide.

While still in the planning stages, Asif told local newspaper Haveeru that the channel would not be a replacement for the Youth TV channel, which was abolished when MBC assumed control of the state’s media assets in February this year.

Until the controversial transfer of power on February 7, the parliament-created state broadcaster MBC had been engaged in a long running tug-of-war with state-owned Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) for control over state media assets, which were re- branded by the company as MNBC One and Raaje Radio.


Training concerns raised as MBC cuts political content from state broadcasts

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) this week announced a temporary halt to all political programming on state media outlets, amidst debate over the need for more independent and informative public broadcasting.

Speaking to local media, MBC Chair Ibrahim Umar Manik claimed that all political programmes on Television Maldives (TVM) and radio broadcaster Voice of Maldives (VOM) would be stopped until both organisations better understood their public service role and could provide “intellectually debatable programs”.

Manik, who was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press, told Sun Online that “foreign groups” were currently training TVM and VOM staff to overcome challenges in operating as a public service broadcaster. Both broadcasters are reportedly set to instead air dramas and other “social programs” in place of political content, though the “Raajje Miadhu” evening show is still expected to deal with the day’s major headlines.

Local media bodies, as well as politicians, have complained that state broadcasting under both Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s administrations had been traditionally run for political and commercial benefit rather than as a public service.

Legal battles

The MBC has been previously involved in a protracted legal battle against former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration over whether the executive – via the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) – or parliament should have responsibility for overseeing state media.

The MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010, the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board.

Following the controversial transfer of power that saw President Mohamed Waheed Hassan take office in February, MBC was granted control of TVM and VOM.

Informative focus

Despite this politicking over the control of state media, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef told Minivan News today that he hoped the MBC’s initiative to rethink public service programming would ensure greater informative and education programming on social issues.

“They [the MBC] are trying to do this, but I believe we need a change of mind set,” he said. “The problem they [state media] has is not so much about politicised thinking, but in having a proper knowledge of how public service broadcasting functions,” he said.

Taking the example of commercial broadcasters in the Maldives, Nazeef said that programmes were focused almost entirely on providing entertainment rather than informative and educational content – something he believed was also the case for the country’s state broadcasters as well.

He claimed that as a result of this focus on entertainment, political programs in the country had traditionally focused on bringing together two rival politicians to confront each other rather than on informing the public about issues such as democratic reform, human rights or public health.

From the perspective of the MMC, Nazeef claimed that local public service broadcasters did not presently have sufficient training to operate under a manner expected of non-commercial media organisations, such as providing a greater emphasis on educational content.

He therefore urged caution over the reforms, adding that the MMC hoped to see a greater focus by the MBC on providing training for finding stories and issues concerning social development.

“Democracy came overnight [following the presidential elections of 2008]. People really needed to be educated on what exactly this meant for society,” he said. “ State media should pay much more of a role in informing people.”

“Propaganda machine”

Nazeef said he believed that since its inception, state media, whether in the guise of TVM, or the re-branded MNBC during Nasheed’s presidency, was continuously run more as a “propaganda machine” and commercial outlet than a state broadcaster.

Beyond covering political developments, Nazeef said he hoped that more training and focusses would be provided to cover issues related to health and human rights.

“At present, you do not find awareness programmes in the Maldives media,” he claimed. “Training is definitely needed in how to find these kinds of stories.”

Training calls

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir concurred that training was needed to help both TVM and VOM adapt to becoming more public service-orientated broadcasters, as well as opting for political impartiality.  However, he claimed that deep rooted partisan thinking posed significant challenges in allowing for more independent coverage on the issues affecting the public.

To this end, Hiriga said he understood that the MBC had temporarily suspended political programming in an attempts to try and have more issue based programming on both TVM and VOM, particularly for important national issues like dealing with dengue fever.

He claimed that he was therefore broadly in favour of the proposed move by the MBC to adopt a more public service-orientated broadcast model.

“I believe it’s not bad actually. At the moment there is no choice to see any other kind of programs, so there should be much more of a focus on public issues,” he said. “My point is that public broadcasters should not just have programs about politics.”

Hiriga accepted that in the long-term, public broadcasting needed to deal with political issues affecting the nation, but this needed to be handled in a different way to how he believed the state had informed its citizens in the past.

“Certainly there should be more independent and liberal minded people in state media,” he said.

However, Hiriga claimed that ensuring independent political coverage in the country was extremely difficult for journalists in the Maldives due to the partisan politics that often divides the nation down party lines on many issues.

“Most journalists are strong believers on either side of the country’s political divide. This makes it difficult for them to produce stories independently and more training is needed in this area,” he said.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokespersons Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and Imthiyaz Fahmy could not be contacted by Minivan News at the time of press regarding the party’s view of the proposed changes to state broadcasting.

However, on March 11 this year, the party announced its intentions to lodge a complaint against the current practices of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) state media outlets, alleging that it was broadcasting “blatant propaganda”.

In the letter, the MDP accused the MBC of violating the agreements mandated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Act of August 2010 by producing biased content and not giving adequate exposure to all political groups.

Last month, Minivan News reported on some of the challenges said to be hampering independent reporting and free media in the country.


Opposition expects government will transfer state media assets in spite of High Court ruling

Opposition MPs remain confident that the government will eventually hand over key assets of the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation’s (MNBC) TV and radio operations, despite a High Court decision yesterday to suspend an existing lower court ruling requesting such a transfer.

Back in May, the Civil Court appeared to have ended a year-long tug of war between opposition MPs and the government over state media by ordering the MNBC to transfer assets and staff from its radio and tv operatons to the parliament-established Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC).

Despite Yesterday’s High Court ruling to withhold the Civil Court’s earlier verdict on transferring Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) to MBC, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom believed the government would in the long-run have to hand over the broadcast assets.

“The government has to follow the rule of law on this issue,” he said. “I think ultimately the government will have to hand over the [MNBC assets] as has been required under the [Majlis] legislation.”

The High Court had now ruled in favour of the government over the dispute, announcing that any transfer of assets from the MNBC would be withheld until it ordered otherwise.

According to Mausoom, the High Court’s decision was presently being seen as a temporary ruling, claiming the judiciary had already had the final say on the fate of TVM and VOM after the lower court ruled that the MNBC was legally obligated to hand over the assets.

However, online local news service Sun has reported that upon passing the High Court judgement, Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef claimed he had acted on “legal” and “equitable considerations” in withholding the Civil Court decision, a decision he claimed was made on the basis of reasons provided by the MNBC.

The case had been ongoing for over a year and become an increasing contentious issue following an initial government decision to transfer the assets and staff from Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM) to the 100 percent government-owned corporate entity MNBC.  TVM is now broadcast as the MNBC One channel.

By April 2010, the opposition-majority parliament had taken action to create MBC and passed an order for the government to transfer MNBC’s assets and staff to this body.

MNBC has been labelled pro-government by critics, while proponents argue that as most other mass media is owned by senior opposition political figures and favours the opposition, the government had no alternative voice. In being formed by parliament, the MBC has a board appointed by the Majlis, to which it is also answerable. The government has claimed this structure serves only to ensure political influence in the running of the state broadcaster and refused to comply with the legislation on these grounds.

Opposition figures and high profile political activists such as Umar Naseer, a dismissed Deputy Leader of the DRP, have held protests requesting the “freedom” of state media from what they allege is government control and influence.


DQP accuses government of seizing state media

The Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) has claimed the government has “captured and rebranded” the state media, the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between parliament and the government over which institution should have jurisdiction over the state broadcasters.

“Equal opportunity from state media is one of the basic characteristics of democracy,’’ said a statement issued by the DQP. “There is no one who would dispute that the most important [component] of a steady democracy is establishment of a free media.’’

The party accused the government of seizing the the assets of Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives, and refusing to transfer the assets to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which was established by the parliament to monitor the state media.

The party further claimed that the government was seeking to “mislead” people by rebranding the state broadcasters’ parent company to the ‘Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation’ (MNBC).

“This reveals the characteristics of a government that is uncivilised, stubborn and dictatorial,” the DQP statement said, concluding with a prayer “to protect [the country] from this kind of leadership.”

DQP claimed that when the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the opposition, they were “always accusing the then government of misusing the state media.”

‘’As a result, MDP in their manifesto wrote in bold letters that they would establish a free media,’’ the statement said.

“It proves that MDP also wished for independent media before they came into power, however today we are witnessing that MDP has failed to fulfill their own pledges stated in their manifesto.’’

“After the bill on Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was passed in the parliament and the board was appointed, the government realised that the board members were not the type of people that would stick to anything the government did, and they forgot what they had written in their manifesto,’’ DQP claimed. “Now the government is trying to prevent Voice of Maldives and Television Maldives from becoming independent.’’

MDP parliamentary group leader and MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik said that historically DQP had been against the MDP manifesto, but was now supporting it self-interestedly in parliament’s bid to take over state media.

“To me it’s a joke that all these days they have been against our manifesto, and then suddenly they point at it for their self-interest,’’ said Moosa, accusing the DQP of dictatorship in turn.