Government takes control of broadcaster, creating state mouthpiece

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) condemns the Maldivian government’s moves to take control of the national public broadcaster on April 29 as an attack on the democracy’s press freedom.

Maldivian President, Abdulla Yameen, continues to increase the government's control of the media. Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP

Maldivian President, Abdulla Yameen, continues to increase the government’s control of the media. Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP

On April 27, the Public Service Media (PSM) Bill was tabled in the Maldives Parliament and passed with 41 votes in favor, and four votes against it. The new Act was then ratified by President Abdulla Yameen which dissolves the Maldivian Broadcasting Corporation. The President also proposed a seven person governing board.

During a brief parliamentary debate, Government MP Riyaz Rasheed, from the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the reasoned the new bill was necessary as the Maldivian Broadcasting Corporation had extensively covered a campaign to free former president Mohamad Nasheed, while ignoring the events, overseas trips and announcements of the current government.

Former president Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on March 14 for ordering the arrest of chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012 who was under corruption suspicions. Originally cleared of his charges in February in the Criminal Court, the country’s first democratically elected president was re-arrested by the prosecutor general on February 23 under tough new anti-terror laws, a move President Yameen says was not politically motivated.

Maldivian media have criticized the new bill saying it is an attempt by the government to take control of the public broadcaster and use it as a mouthpiece for the government.  Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said however the new Bill it is an attempt by the government to spread propaganda at all levels of the media, noting the law requires the new broadcaster to run their news and programs through social media.

The MJA said: “The PSM bill is not in line with best practices and fundamentals of a public service broadcasting or media. In fact  the government is controlling public service broadcasting though this bill. MJA believes the Maldives has gone back to the 80s and we condemn the controlling of media, especially the removal of public service broadcasting in the country.”

The IFJ said: “The Maldivian media have faced a number of challenges from the government in recent months and this Act is another attempt by the Yameen government to control critics. The concept of the public broadcaster is to ensure balanced and ethical reporting in the public interest, however with the government controlling this, it will only serve as a propaganda tool.”