The state broadcaster Public Service Media has accused Al Jazeera journalists of conspiring to damage the Maldivian economy with an upcoming documentary about alleged corruption and abuse of power by President Abdulla Yameen.
In an article published on its website last night, PSM said the ‘Stealing Paradise’ documentary was made in collaboration with the opposition by “a foreigner and non-Muslim called Will Jordan with the purpose of spreading falsehoods about the Maldives and causing loss of investor confidence”.
Jordan, a former editor of The Maldives Independent (formerly Minivan News), was also accused of working with the opposition to post anti-government tweets.
“And even before this documentary bringing the Maldives into disrepute was made, the non-Muslim Will Jordan and his team had carried out special campaigns to stop tourists and investors from coming to the Maldives and to starve the Maldivian people,” it added.
The PSM article said ‘Stealing Paradise’ has been taken off Al Jazeera’s schedule for Sunday.
A private screening scheduled for last Wednesday has also been postponed. But The Maldives Independent understands the documentary will be shown next week.
According to Al Jazeera, it features secretly filmed interviews describing how “men on mopeds carried millions in cash to the president and his aides.”
The imminent release of the corruption exposé appears to have rattled the government with ruling party MPs threatening to sue the Doha-based broadcaster and prosecute Maldivians who gave information to Al Jazeera’s award-winning investigative unit.
In a counter campaign, government supporters have been trumpeting infrastructure projects on social media, using the pun #HealingParadise, and ministers and lawmakers have launched a media offensive with nightly television appearances.
Appearing on PSM’s Television Maldives earlier this week, MP Ahmed Nihan said Maldivians must bear responsibility for false reports in foreign media.
“Action will be taken if they give false information to harm the Maldives, harm the government, and destroy the economy,” he warned. Legal action will also be taken against those who broadcast, rebroadcast, or report the same content in writing, he added.
The majority leader of parliament said the draconian anti-defamation law passed last month allows for such measures.
Nihan had previously suggested that the documentary was paid for by the opposition.
In last night’s article, the PSM also said it has learned that the unreleased documentary is biased in favour of the opposition. It poses a threat to Maldivian sovereignty and makes no mention of “the good life of the Maldivian people or the government’s efforts for development”.
The state broadcaster came under fire recently 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.
The report was widely condemned as defamatory.
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 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.
A programme called ‘Protecting your reputation – a religious and human right’ is shown on TVM every night. The PSM’s magazine Mahaldeeb also dedicated its latest issue to “educating” readers about the anti-defamation law.
The heavily criticised law “does not limit or oppress freedom of expression, so long as the opinions are true,” reads one article.
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.
Dogged by corruption allegations since a damning audit report in February exposed the theft of US$80 million from state coffers, Yameen has received bad press in recent weeks in major international publications.
On Sunday, the New York Times published a report alleging Yameen’s involvement in “questionable oil sales to a Myanmar dictatorship under economic sanctions.”
The BBC meanwhile revealed what it called a plot to remove Yameen from power.
The department of immigration has since set new rules requiring background checks for foreign journalists and photographers seeking to report in the Maldives. A business lobby meanwhile urged the government to go a step further and ban foreign journalists from working in the Maldives.