In its 2017 Freedom of the Press report, Freedom House, a US-based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, changed the status of the Maldives from Partly Free to Not Free “as the government further tightened its control of the media, including through the passage of new legislation that criminalises defamation.”
“Combined with ongoing police harassment and arbitrary arrests, the law contributed to increased self-censorship among journalists,” Freedom House observed.
The Maldives also fell five places on the annual press freedom index of the France-based Reporters Without Borders, which said the government continues to “persecute the independent media”.
On this year’s World Press Freedom Day – 10 days after the brutal murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed and nearly 1,000 days after the abduction of journalist Ahmed Rilwan – the Maldives Independent spoke to senior journalists from top media outlets in the country for their views on the state of press freedom in the country.
Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, Chief Operating Officer, Raajje TV
There is no press freedom in the Maldives right now. Whatever free and independent media outlet that is left remains due to their sheer will to continue the important work independent journalists do and they do so with an unbelievable amount of pressure and intimidation from thugs, government authorities and even the regulators.
Today, Raajje TV is still working on raising funds for a US$60,000 fine for something someone else said during a live broadcast of a political rally. I have no doubt that the moment we pay off this fine, they will slap us with another fine.
Raajje TV has been the target of many attacks like the 2013 arson attack which destroyed our studios to the prosecution of our journalists by the state.
It is difficult to see any hope at this moment, but we are not ready to put our mics down, turn off our cameras and go off-air just yet.
Ali Sulaiman, Senior Editor, Villa TV
I think dictators are very afraid of journalists. Today, in Maldives, we are seeing that. We have no uncertainty today that someone might be murdered due to something he says, writes or expresses. Today when we write and express, we have to do so knowing that our lives are at risk.
The narrowing of press freedom today has taken Maldives back further than even the first constitution of 1932.
I do not have any hope that the situation will get better. I say this because of the laws that have been enacted, laws that narrow press freedom significantly that the freedom is now threatened.
Misbah Abbas, Editor of VFP and member of the Maldives Media Council
What can I say about press freedom in Maldives? Everything you need to know is in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index and the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report. What more can anyone say?
What I can see is that it has been 999 days since a journalist was abducted. There have been other attacks on journalists, mass threat texts have been sent to journalists and over a week ago a journalist was brutally murdered. What I can see is that there has been no solution to any of the attacks on the press, no one has been prosecuted. Even the investigations are still ongoing. I don’t see any institution taking any action to protect press freedom.
Hope? I don’t think we should ever give up hope, but many things need to change before we can think of ways to ensure an independent media.
Fazeena Ahmed, Assistant Editor, Mihaaru
The Maldives does not have press freedom. There has been a lot of challenges in the past years and this year we have seen an unprecedented decline in press freedom. We have seen the Defamation Act being enacted. This act specifically targets journalists and regulatory authorities have been politicised by stacking members loyal to the government. Under this government, it has become risky for journalists to do their job. Any journalist can be investigated, prosecuted, fined and even jailed for what they write.
I don’t see any hope at the moment, but we have tried to report independently and freely despite the many obstacles. We do this because of a passion for journalism and to promote press freedom.
Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, Editor-in-chief, Sun Media Group
After the Defamation Act, press freedom has been lost in Maldives. There are still some people who write, despite the restrictions but the media has been more or less controlled and muzzled after the Defamation Act. Even with the law, if the regulatory bodies acted without any bias and treated all media outlets fairly, I think there might be an opportunity to report freely. But as we have seen, this is not the case. The press has been controlled and those still reporting independently and freely are doing so in an atmosphere of fear.
In the immediate future, I don’t see any indicator that the situation will improve. It depends on how much pressure can be exerted in order for the lawmakers to think differently about press freedom. Until then, I think this will continue.
Layal Manik, Video Journalist, Channel 13
Many may think after the Defamation Act journalists are oppressed from expressing their views and reporting freely. Yet even today we see that many stations and news outlets either pro- or anti-government can express their views bluntly. The government allows all journalists to report openly, do their work without any harsh subjection. Defamation Act has not only protected any one individual but everyone including journalists.
I think the negative impression is maybe because some journalists are fined due to defamatory content. But the thing is, looking at the content which fined an individual and a station including content that violated a person’s dignity and how the article revealed the person in a sensitive matter, which may cause a threat to that person.
Even today broadcasters broadcast and reporters write criticising the government, yet no such actions are being taken by any authorities.