The reconstituted Maldives Broadcasting Commission has been accused of bias and double standards over contrasting rulings issued recently after investigating similar complaints.
The broadcasting regulator on Sunday ordered the opposition-aligned Raajje TV to apologise again for airing a documentary about a Sri Lankan man who said he performed sorcery or black magic to help President Abdulla Yameen win the 2013 election.
The documentary was anti-Islamic, the MBC said.
In late April, the MBC also ordered Raajje TV to stop live broadcast of its popular talk show following a complaint over corruption allegations levelled at Yameen by an opposition politician in exile.
However, the commission decided last week that remarks made by a ruling party MP in an appearance on the government-aligned Channel 13 did not violate the code.
MP Abdulla Rifau alleged during a talk show on May 1 that former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power by “promising drugs and alcohol to the country’s youth.”
After investigating a complaint filed over the remarks, the commission said “such phrases could be used to reveal how something happened with reference to a court verdict.”
Asked to clarify which court verdict it referred to in relation to Nasheed promising drugs to youth, MBC President Mohamed Shaheeb said: “The commission has looked into and finished the case. We are not going to comment on finished cases, especially in response to a call from a random person. If you want any further information, send a request in writing.”
Nasheed was found guilty of ordering the “abduction” of a judge and sentenced to 13 years in prison in March last year. The 19-day trial drew widespread condemnation over apparent lack of due process.
The MBC’s controversial decisions come after the appointment of Fathmath Zaina and Zeena Zahir to the seven-member oversight body last April. Both former journalists were working under First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at the president’s re-election campaign office.
MP Eva Abdulla of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party told The Maldives Independent that the regulator’s recent decisions “proves that it is an extension of the president’s office and its members are working for their political masters.”
She added: “President Yameen’s regime has systematically assaulted journalists and freedom of the press. The press is the only remaining independent power, it is the fourth estate.”
The appointment of Yameen’s campaign workers to the MBC was among concerns raised by Maldivian journalists in a petition submitted to the authorities in response to an unprecedented crackdown on press freedom.
The country’s oldest newspaper Haveeru has been forced shut over an ownership dispute, while four Raajje TV journalists are now standing trial on charges of obstructing law enforcement officers.
Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, editor of Sun Online and founder of Media Development Foundation, said the regulator’s recent decisions did not come as a surprise in light of the MBC’s new composition.
The rulings were problematic on several levels, he said: “First, no media outlet should be penalised for comments made by a third party. Second, the MBC is treating different stations differently and the third aspect is irresponsible comments by politicians and irresponsible reporting by journalists.”
Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, Raajje TV’s chief operating officer, said the commission has ignored the station’s letters.
“It will not matter to them. They will do whatever they want to do. They are asking us to apologize because we are Raajje TV, to obstruct us and the work that we do, to intimidate us,” he said.
“I believe the state as a whole is involved in this, they are organizing these things. This time they are using MBC to do what they want to us, there are more institutions to follow.”
Additional writing by Ahmed Naish