The Maldives Broadcasting Commission has instructed opposition-aligned Raajje TV to issue a formal apology over a documentary aired on February 6 about a Sri Lankan man who allegedly performed sorcery or black magic to help President Abdulla Yameen win the 2013 election.
The allegations were “false and baseless” and the president was not afforded an opportunity to respond, the regulator said, ordering the privately-owned station to “unconditionally issue an apology statement” on air during primetime before April 18.
The MBC went on to issue a warning for purportedly contravening the broadcasting code of practice. A second private station, Sangu TV, was also issued a similar warning over a talk show.
Raajje TV issued the apology last night but noted that the documentary featured an unedited interview with the Aseyla Wikramasinghe, a Sri Lankan “priest” who owns a temple for the worship of the Hindu god Durga.
The programme featured several photos of Yameen posing with Aseyla as well as secretly recorded conversations Aseyla had with the then-Progressive Party of Maldives candidate during the 2013 campaign.
Days after the documentary aired, the MBC ordered Raajje TV not to show a rerun or any related content pending the investigation of a complaint.
The MBC’s order this week follows concerns raised by journalists over the appointment of Fathmath Zaina and Zeena Zahir to the seven-member oversight body. Both former journalists were working under First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at the president’s re-election campaign office.
A group of journalists had staged a silent protest outside the People’s Majlis while voting on the MBC nominees took place earlier this month, expressing concern that opposition-aligned TV and radio stations will be unfairly targeted by the newly appointed members.
The MBC also sent a letter to Sangu TV yesterday over an episode of the weekly ‘Sangu Bahus’ debate programme aired on February 26.
The content of the episode violated societal norms and standards and contravened the broadcasting code of ethics, the commission said.
“It is to be noted that Seven Media Private Limited [parent company of Sangu TV] has the right to appeal the commission’s decision” the letter added.
Guests on the programme included MP Fayyaz Ismail from the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Sheikh Ali Zahir from the Adhaalath Party, MP Ibrahim Waheed of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.
The topic of the debate was whether releasing jailed politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, was necessary to resolve a year-long political crisis.
Responding to the MBC letter, Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, managing director of Sangu TV, told The Maldives Independent: “The station does not believe it should bear the responsibility for views expressed by guests who appeared on a talk show.”
He added that the programme features guests from both sides of the political divide and offers the opportunity to respond to allegations.
“MBC highlighted that words such as ‘gay’ and ‘pilfering of state funds’ were used in making allegations against unnamed individuals, but the station believes that such words or phrases are not the problem, rather, the individuals who indulged in activities that can be described with such phrases are to blame,” he explained.
The MBC’s disciplinary action comes amidst a campaign launched by the Maldivian media following the arrest of some 18 journalists last week from a sit-in protest, which was prompted by the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan, the court-ordered shutdown of the country’s oldest newspaper, and the criminal court’s ban of reporters from four outlets.
On Sunday, a petition outlining concerns over threats to press freedom – signed by some 183 journalists from all mainstream outlets with the exception of the state broadcaster and the pro-government Channel 13 – was submitted to the President’s Office, the People’s Majlis and the Supreme Court.
Three Raajje TV journalists are meanwhile facing trial on charges of obstructing law enforcement officers. The station’s chief operating officer, Hussain Fiyaz Moosa, was meanwhile charged with assaulting a police officer.
Journalists Mohamed Wisam and Leevan Ali Naseer appeared at the criminal court this morning for the first hearing of their trial on charges of obstructing police duty while covering the security force’s attempt to defuse a bomb on November 2.
The presiding judge gave the pair time to appoint a lawyer and scheduled a next hearing for May 10.