A corruption-themed television drama produced by the Anti-Corruption Commission has stirred controversy with the Maldives Customs Service and a government-run hospital complaining of negative portrayals.
The ‘Bithufangi’ drama series, directed by Mohamed Niyaz ‘Tedry,’ began airing on six TV stations last month. Five episodes have aired so far, exploring issues such as bribing judges, profiting from selling expired medicines, and bribing government officials to secure approvals for restaurants or buildings.
The series, aired at a time of mounting national frustration over corruption, has been well received by the public with many praising Tedry on social media.
But the Maldives Customs Service have accused the producers of using the customs uniform without permission while the health ministry said the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital was unfairly named in an episode. Both groups have threatened to take action against the ACC.
The MCS in a statement earlier this week said that the drama spread misinformation and portrayed it in a “biased and defamatory manner”.
“It is disheartening that an entity such as the ACC would portray a dignified organisation such as MCS in a derogatory manner, undermining public confidence,” the MCS said.
Health Minister Iruthisham Adam meanwhile alleged last week that the IGMH was named in one episode, bringing blameless doctors and nurses into disrepute.
The ministry takes the matter seriously, Iruthisham said, warning that action can be taken under public health and defamation laws.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Tedry said the MCS and health ministry were “reacting to trivial matters while ignoring the core issue.”
“The series is not aimed at defaming particular state institutions but to spread awareness about corruption, something ACC is mandated to do under the law it was formed,” he said. “The series highlights that there is a system in place but that these things happen by people who abuse the system.”
Tedry denied naming IGMH, saying that the episode in question told a story of medical negligence leading to the death of a newborn during childbirth, but did not explicitly name IGMH.
According to ACC, the series was aimed at creating public awareness about the impact of corruption in different sectors.
A survey conducted by ACC in early 2014 showed that a majority of Maldivian civil servants were reluctant to report acts of corruption due to delays in or lack of justice and lack of action by relevant authorities.
Meanwhile, ACC President Hassan Lutfy stressed that the stories are based on what happens at state institutions, and assured that series will not be scrapped because of the allegations. He denied using the customs uniform, saying that “something similar” was used.
In the premiere ceremony of the series last month, Tedry said he faced many difficulties in writing the scripts, especially in gathering information from government offices.
“While we were developing the script, when we took appointments and went to government offices to get information, we were kicked out, to put it simply,” he said.
Following the complaints by the health ministry and MCS, Tedry said artists working on the project are now hestitant and cautious.
“The master cut for three of the episodes is not done yet. Something I notice during these last short shootings is that artists are a bit more hesitant, it has affected their performance,” he said.
The government’s threat of action came amidst controversy over government-sponsored legislation on criminalising defamation. The ‘defamation and freedom of expression’ bill submitted to the parliament last week prescribes hefty fines of between MVR 50,000 to MVR5 million as penalties for violations.
Offenders who fail to pay the court-imposed fine will face a one-year jail term.
In December, anti-corruption NGO Transparency Maldives said “extraordinary measures” are needed to tackle corruption as “the level of impunity enjoyed by the powerful and the corrupt in the Maldives, allows them to escape justice, undermines the rule of law and obstructs development.”
The government is embroiled in a historic corruption scandal involving the theft of MVR1.2billion (US$80million) from state coffers. President Abdulla Yameen, ministers and MPs across the political spectrum have been accused of benefiting from stolen funds.