Raajje TV on Thursday paid an MVR1 million (US$64,850) fine imposed by the broadcasting regulator for airing a speech that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen.
The broadcaster raised the money through an extensive fundraising campaign that saw two opposition lawmakers donate MVR100,000 (US$6,485) between themselves.
Raajje TV’s Chief Operating Officer Hussain Fiyaz Moosa told the Maldives Independent that the station plans to appeal the second fine imposed by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission.
The appeal of the first fine is underway in the civil court.
“We do not believe that this fine was imposed in a fair, independent or transparent manner. The investigation lacked basic standards for a transparent inquiry. However, we paid the fines as we cannot appeal without doing that,” Fiyaz said.
According to the draconian law, if the fine is not paid within 30 days, the commission can suspend or cancel Raajje TV’s broadcasting license. The fine must also be paid in full before the regulator’s decision could be appealed to a court.
Fiyaz said Raajje TV is expecting more fines from the regulator.
“We are expecting another fine because this law is targeted at us. They want to drive us out of business because we report independently despite the threats,” he said.
According to regulations enacted under the law, media outlets can be fined between MVR50,000 (US$3,200) and MVR500,000 (US$32,400) for a first offence, and up to MVR2 million (US$129,700) after the third offence.
The MVR1 million fine was the maximum allowed for a second offence.
In a statement about the second fine, the MBC had said that it launched the inquiry of its own initiative as it believed the content was slanderous as defined by article 10 of the Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act.
According to Raajje TV, the slanderous content was a speech by a guest speaker at an opposition rally in Malé on October 28, 2016.
The commission concluded that four statements were defamatory towards Yameen.
“Take a look at any of the projects started out by Abdullah Yameen. Few projects such as the pigeon park was completed,” the speaker had said.
“There are no airports, flats, airports of any other projects created by him. Over the space of three years, how many billion Rufiyaa was handed over by the state coffers to him, nothing done. We had received nothing but theft, corruption and pain.”
The defamation law controversially holds TV stations responsible for defamatory content aired during live coverage of political rallies. In August, Raajje TV began airing rallies and protests with a delay of up to two minutes in case some parts need to be beeped out.
The MBC is meanwhile reviewing a fine of MVR50,000 imposed on former RaajjeTV Journalist Aalaa Ibrahim after the journalist released a statement saying that the regulator failed to grant her an opportunity to defend herself.
The MBC is authorised to investigate complaints and impose fines against broadcasters whilst the Maldives Media Council, comprised of members elected by journalists, can take action against print and online media.
The seven-member broadcasting commission has previously been accused of double standards after the appointment of Fathmath Zaina and Zeena Zahir in April 2016 by the ruling party-dominated parliament.
Both former journalists were working under First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim at the president’s re-election campaign office.
In December, the commission dismissed a complaint alleging defamation of former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed by the state broadcaster.
The passage of the anti-defamation law led to the abrupt closure of the Maldives’ first private TV station, DhiTV, and journalists say they are now forced to practice self-censorship to avoid lawsuits.
The re-criminalisation of defamation was widely condemned as an attack on free speech. A consensus emerged among the Maldivian media that the law would be the death knell of press freedom in the country.