Journalists facing danger, says human rights watchdog

Journalists in the Maldives face many challenges, dangers, and loss of freedom due to their role or expression of views, the state human rights watchdog has said.

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) observed that the Maldives fell four ranks in the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2015 to 112th place.

“The commission has previously noted that Maldivian journalists face death threats and intimidation and that the Maldivian state has to work to establish an environment where journalists can operate freely,” the commission said in a statement issued today on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

Journalists should be able to report information on issues of concern “truthfully, sincerely, and without fear”.

The commission urged the media to act responsibly and respect basic rights and societal norms in providing information.

Journalists should take special care when reporting on issues involving persons with special needs, children, and vulnerable groups, the commission advised.

The commission called on all state institutions to ensure a safe environment for reporting and provide information with ease.

In a tweet with the World Press Day hashtag, Vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel meanwhile said today that “we must applaud the role of journalists & free press in establishing a fair democratic society.”


Maldives journalism awards celebrates free press

The first Maldives Journalism Awards took place in Dharubaaruge, Malé last night (May 3). The ceremony presented “Journalist of the Year” awards to journalists working in print and radio in the Maldives.

Fazeena Ahmed, 26, of Haveeru won in the online print category, and Ahmed Naushad, Voice of Maldives, won in the radio journalism category.

Haveeru journalist Ahmed Hamdhoon censured President Abdulla Yameen’s failure to attend the ceremony, saying: “[We] feel we, journalists are not important to the government.”

The event, organized by the Maldives Media Council, selected winners based on discipline, richness of content, adherence to proper journalistic practices, quality of presentation and inclusion of photos and videos.

Winners of the Maldives Journalism Award were selected by an independent panel of judges consisting of Maldives Broadcasting Commission Chairman Ibrahim Umar Manik, former Minister of State for Information Thoyyib Mohamed, former Aafathis editors Abdulla Naeem Ibrahim, Mohamed Nazeef and Ahmed Zahir

There was an additional TV journalism category for which seven journalists applied. However, the judges said that none were selected due to lack of material.

Winner of the online journalism category Fazeena has been working at Haveeru for the past five years, and won recognition for her profile of former President Mohamed Nasheed during the presidential election of 2013, and her coverage of the Villingili children’s orphanage.

“I am very happy. Not just because I won the award, but because the Media Council has introduced such an award for the first time. This is a very important step and an encouragement for new journalists,” Fazeena told Minivan News.

She went on to identify access to information as the biggest obstacle to media freedom, and said that she had received threats because of her work.

No government officials present

In an op-ed today, Haveeru journalist Ahmed Hamdhoon expressed disappointment over President Abdulla Yameen and his ministers’ failure to attend the ceremony.

“All those working in the media are deeply saddened by President Yameen’s refusal to attend a landmark ceremony held by an independent state institution’s to recognize and encourage journalists,” wrote Hamdhoon.

Hamdhoon also criticized President Abdulla Yameen’s failure to make a statement on the World Press Freedom Day (May 3).

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali has said Yameen was unable to attend the ceremony because the invitation –which was delivered a week ahead of the event – came “at the last minute.”

In a statement, Muaz said the government will treat all journalists equally, and pledged to do all possible to protect media in the Maldives. He went to say that the government will enact the Right to Information Act within the period specified in the act.

The government welcomes responsible journalism, and will stop any journalism outside of acceptable borders, or attempts to create chaos or defame individuals, he added.

He recognized threats media has faced over the past two years, including the vandalism at Villa TV, the Raajje TV arson attack, and the murder attempt on Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed.

Speaking at the event last night, MMC member Mohamed Abdulla Shafeeq identified threats to journalists as a growing problem.

“Threats from public to media outlets are increasing. There have been no efforts to stop this. This is something that all journalists agree,” he said.

A landmark “Threat Analysis Report” carried out by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission last week found that 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis.

Journalists identified political parties to be the top source of threat. Gangs, religious extremists and parliament placed second while the government were rated third.


Social network free speech-potential praised by UN expert

Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter have been praised as key tools in helping facilitating the recent political uprisings across some Middle East and North African nations, according to Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

La Rue’s comments, which were issued ahead of World Press Freedom Day today, aim to raise awareness of the role he believed social networking had played in allowing individuals all other the world to share information instantaneously, particularly during protests seen in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Saud Arabia.

“As one activist tweeted during the protests in Egypt, ‘we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world’,” he noted in a statement printed by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency. “I believe that we are currently in a historic moment. Never in the history of humankind have individuals been so interconnected across the globe.”

La Rue stressed that despite this potential, the internet was still being censored by some governments along with the use of “age-old tactics” like intimidation, arrests, torture, disappearances and killings to try and suppress freedom of speech.

“The power of the Internet to awaken individuals to question and challenge the status quo and to expose corruption and wrongdoing has generated fear among the powerful,” said the UN expert. “The events in the Middle East and North Africa have shown that it is never a viable long-term option to suppress the voices of the people,” he added, calling on “all governments to choose reform over repression”.