Media regulator shares press freedom concerns with Chief Justice

Media regulator shares press freedom concerns with Chief Justice
March 10 20:11 2016

The head of the Maldives broadcasting regulator met with Supreme Court Justices Wednesday to raise concerns after the criminal court barred several media outlets from observing trials.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission said in a statement that its president, Mohamed Shaheeb, discussed “seeking a solution to the tension between the media and the judiciary”.

Shaheeb expressed concern with the criminal court barring reporters as it is an obstruction to the freedom of the press guaranteed by the constitution. According to the MBC, he sought to clear up both why the media is facing difficulties in covering news related to the judiciary and what rules the journalists had ostensibly violated.

“And if there are any problems with broadcasted content, [Shaheeb] requested giving an opportunity for the broadcasting commission to take action under the broadcasting law and the broadcasting code of practice without the court taking immediate action,” the MBC said.

Shaheeb also stressed the importance of steps that could be taken to familiarise court reporters with judicial rules and regulations. Journalists also need more training and experience to cover trials more professionally, he said, and suggested accrediting court reporters.

According to the MBC, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed said he welcomes “free and responsible journalism” but “noted that a few people were misusing the media.”

He also assured Shaheeb of efforts by the Supreme Court to resolve the strained relationship between the judiciary and the press.

The chief justice said media outlets should work responsibly to uphold national interest.

Earlier this month, the criminal court banned government-aligned news websites Haveeru, V News and Avas, from reporting on trials. A reason was not specified.

Journalists from Haveeru, Avas and V News were banned a day after their reporters photographed Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf as he was standing outside the courthouse.

Bari is under fire for his involvement in the jailing of leading opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Last week, the court also banned opposition-aligned Raajje TV from observing trials, even excluding the popular station’s reporters from a hearing on an arson attack that destroyed its head offices in 2013.

The Maldives Media Council, which regulates print and online papers, had labeled the criminal court’s actions as intimidation and obstruction of press freedom. The MMC sent a letter last week asking the court to specify reasons for the journalist’s suspension.

Journalists from the state broadcaster Public Service Media and independent outlet CNM  have also been suspended from hearings previously on a variety of charges.

Court officials have regularly reprimanded reporters for “unfair coverage” of trials involving politicians.

Reporters Without Borders meanwhile issued a statement in German expressing concern over press freedom in the Maldives, this year’s partner country of the ITB Berlin Tourism Fair. Journalists who take up sensitive issues are subject to arrests, threats and violence, the global press freedom group said.