The opposition-aligned Raajje TV has resumed regular broadcasts after suspending coverage of political affairs over inability to “report without fear” during the ongoing state of emergency
The privately-owned TV station suspended current affairs coverage on Friday night following the brief detention of a fourth journalist and warnings from the the media regulatory body of revoking the licenses of stations that air content deemed to endanger national security.
Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, Raajje TV’s chief operating officer, told the The Maldives Independent, that the station decided to resume regular broadcasts last night for the sake of its viewers despite failed attempts to seek assurances from the authorities.
“Our attempts within these past two days to meet with state institutions to share our concerns were not successful. However, despite whatever we show, even if it is cartoons, our viewers choose no channel other than ours. So we realised that we were depriving our viewers of their right to information,” he said.
Raajje TV had only been airing national songs and Dhivehi films since Friday night.
Shortly after President Abdulla Yameen declared the 30-day nationwide state of emergency on Wednesday – citing threats to national security from missing weapons and explosives – the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) urged media outlets to ensure that its reports do not encourage unrest.
“Broadcasters must only report any information related to the reasons for declaring state of emergency after confirmation from a relevant official authority,” said the commission’s president, Mohamed Shakeeb.
A day after the state of emergency was declared, the police raided the privately-owned Sangu TV over a “threatening video message” and confiscated all of the station’s hard disks, forcing it to cease live transmission.
Reporters Without Borders urged the government against gagging broadcast and online media.
Fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of assembly have been suspended during the state of emergency, but the constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of press and speech in a state of emergency.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesperson, said on Saturday that the government “will not obstruct any media” and “will always welcome criticism.”
“The government believes that the responsibility of the media’s parental bodies should be keeping media within bounds,” he said in a tweet.
The regulatory bodies’ role is not only “issuing press statements at certain times,” he added.
Fiyaz meanwhile said Raajje TV’s management has had unofficial meetings with government officials and members of the MBC, who assured that there were no threats to the station or its journalists.
But they declined to offer official assurances, he added.
Fiyaz said an official meeting with the MBC took place this morning. Raajje TV shared its concerns and asked for a guideline to ensure that content does not pose a threat to national security.
The commissioners said they will have discussions with the police and try their best to establish an environment conducive to press freedom, he said.
Fiyaz was among three reporters who were arrested on a charge of obstructing police duty last week. The Raajje TV journalists said they were beaten severely.
Fiyaz said on Raajje TV last night that the MBC had not contacted the station to clarify why it suspended regular broadcasts.
“Our parental body is the broadcasting commission, and no parent can bear for their offspring to remain unfed, they will care for them if they have any kind of mercy or care,” he said.
“Despite having missed these past two days, we tirelessly continue to broadcast our news and current affairs content.”
In February 2013, Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October that year.
Two years after the arson attack, only one of 18 suspects was charged.
The Maldives has plummeted on the Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index during the past four years. In 2014, numerous death threats were sent to journalists, journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared, and a machete was buried at the door of the The Maldives Independent office.
While police assured thorough investigations in each case, charges have not been raised against any suspects.