Broadcasting Commission condemns barring of Raajje TV crew from government press room

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission has condemned an incident on Thursday where a crew from private broadcaster Raajje TV was forced out of a press conference by Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

The commission said it has written to both the President’s Office and Islamic Ministry seeking clarification “at the earliest possible opportunity”, following media reports that the station’s crew was forced out from the Velaanage press room on orders from the President’s Office.

“The commission believes that regardless of whomever it is committed by, such acts hinder the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and [the commission] condemns it,” reads the letter from the commission.

“The commission also believes that all state institutions must provide equal opportunity for media in a free and democratic environment.”

Article 28 of the constitution states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

Moreover, article 29 states, “Everyone has the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

The letter from the Broadcasting Commission noted that the President’s Office had previously assured that it was “the government’s policy to continually provide all information that it is legally obliged to provide to all parties”.

The statement was made in a reply to the commission on August 28 after it had written to the President’s Office regarding media reports claiming that the government was refusing to provide information to Raajje TV.

Government Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.

Riza however told newspaper Haveeru on Thursday that Raajje TV crew had repeatedly breached codes of conduct inside the President’s Office.

The spokesperson said that the President’s Office would not allow to “do as it pleases.”

The local daily reported that during his press conference Islamic Minister Shaheem had asked a President’s Office employee at the press room if the Raajje TV crew had been expelled.

When the staff confirmed that it was done on orders from the President’s Office, Shaheem reportedly told the employee not to refuse entry to any media crew to an Islamic Ministry press conference without his approval.

“The Islamic Ministry does not have any problems with any TV [station] in the country. I am asking because I’m the one who has to answer for this. I just got an SMS asking me why I forced them out. I didn’t. I thought they left because it was our office,” Shaheem reportedly said after his exchange with the President’s Office staff.

Invitations only

Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yamin told Minivan News that Raajje TV has not faced any “obstruction” from the Islamic Ministry.

“But the press room at Velaanage is managed by staff from the President’s Office,” he explained. “When our crew went to the press conference, [the President’s Office staff] said Raajje TV was not invited and told them to get out.”

Media officials from the President’s Office also refused entry to a Raajje TV crew to a press conference later in the day by the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL), Yamin said.

“But MPL senior officials said they would provide us any information and invite us to their press conferences and events,” he said. “So this issue is between Raajje TV and the President’s Office media staff.”

Yamin added that he was told by President’s Advisor on Political Affairs Ahmed Thaufeeq ‘Topy’ that he was unaware of the apparent non-cooperation policy, suggesting a “difference of opinion within the President’s Office concerning Raajje TV.”

Attempts to contact President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were unsuccessful, Yamin said.

In September, Raajje TV sued the President’s Office at the Civil Court for effectively boycotting the station from press conferences and official functions.

Yamin told Minivan News at the time that “the whole issue began with the government’s Media Secretary Masood Imad excluding RaajjeTV in all invitations to media to cover their press events.”

“Initially, Abbas Adil Riza held a different opinion. But then it became a norm for the government to block us from events, even refusing access and turning us away when we took the initiative to find out about events and attempt to cover them with or without invitation.”

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) released a statement at the time stating that it would neither encourage nor accept the boycotting of any media outlet by either state institutions or political parties

Raajje TV had also filed a lawsuit against the Maldives Police Service (MPS) at the Civil Court, following their decision to not to cooperate with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned TV station.

The station had earlier accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

The lawsuit followed an announcement by the police claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about police, which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.

Yamin said today that the cases were ongoing at the Civil Court.

In previous hearings, Yamin said, the government argued that it was within its rights or discretion not to invite certain media to press conferences and events.

“But what we are saying is that it is a constitutional right of media to gather information and we are ready to fight for that right,” he said.