The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has submitted a complaint to the anti-corruption watchdog over the state broadcaster’s live telecast of a ruling party campaign rally on the southern island of Fuvahmulah.
Stressing that the state broadcaster is funded by the taxpayer, the MDP objected to “activities of a particular political party being broadcasted live while other parties have not been afforded an equal opportunity.”
Abdulla Rameez, the spokesman of the Public Service Media corporation, which operates the state’s TV and radio channels, declined to comment as “the matter has been lodged by a third party at the relevant investigative authorities.”
Friday night’s rally, broadcast live on Television Maldives, featured Progressive Party of Maldives MPs and ministers declaring support for President Abdulla Yameen and accusing the opposition of plotting to illegally overthrow the government.
The PSM has previously faced criticism for live broadcasts of Yameen’s campaign symposiums and several programmes promoting the current administration. It routinely airs talk shows with ruling party MPs and ministers without an opposition voice.
Opposition rallies and protests have never been covered live by PSM’s channels.
When the PSM was established in April 2015 under a new law passed by the ruling party-dominated parliament, the International Federation of Journalists and local affiliate Maldives Journalism Association accused the government of seizing control of public service broadcasting.
Ruling party MPs have come to the PSM’s defence in the wake of criticism over the live broadcast of the PPM rally.
MP Ahmed Nihan, the majority leader, accused the MDP of exerting influence over the state broadcaster while the party was in power and forcing it to broadcast rallies.
PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed said in a tweet that the state broadcaster’s board of directors will decide whether to provide live coverage of rallies.
The Anti-Corruption Commission cannot investigate complaints about content, he contended.
Opposition MP Ali Hussain, however, suggested that abolishing PSM would be better than allowing it to function as a “propaganda machine.”
“Instead of state media promoting the government at a huge expense, the state’s role should be professionally regulating the media,” he tweeted.
TVM meanwhile recently came under fire for criticising a tweet by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with the incumbent president for control of the PPM.
A senior editor at TVM told The Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity last week that the report might have been “bait for the opposition” to use the widely condemned anti-defamation law, which was pushed through despite fears that it could be used to stifle dissent and criminalises free speech.
According to the editor, TVM was told to defend the controversial bill on religious grounds before it was put to a vote. The channel hosted panel discussions featuring pro-government lawyers and lawmakers arguing for the need to place restrictions on freedom of expression.
The defamation law does not deter TVM, the editor said.
“We are funded by the taxpayer. Even if penalised, the money will go straight to the government. It will be business as usual.”