The state broadcaster refused to show a live telecast of an official ceremony organised by the Maldives Media Council to mark International Press Freedom Day on May 3.
MMC Secretary General Mohamed Farshath told local media last week that the council had written to the Public Service Media corporation – the event’s official media partner – requesting a live broadcast as in previous years.
“PSM had assigned a focal point for the event, who communicated to us unofficially that the event would be aired live,” he said. The MMC expected a live telecast based on the assurances, he added.
However, PSM has denied planning a live broadcast of the ceremony.
Abdulla Rameez, PSM’s media official, said: “PSM will air any live events that we have scheduled to broadcast. However, we do bring changes to our schedule according to editorial considerations. Sometimes changes are brought to the schedule according to development events and other significant functions.”
He also noted that PSM had not made an announcement about airing the event.
The official ceremony featured speeches critical of the current administration’s purportedly anti-democratic trajectory. The annual journalism awards were also handed out by special guests such as ruling party MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed and Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakuru.
The PSM was established in April 2015 under a new law passed by the parliament to replace the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation – which previously operated the state television and radio stations – prompting accusations from the International Federation of Journalists and local affiliate Maldives Journalism Association of the government of seizing control of public service broadcasting.
Ibrahim Umar Manik, chairman of the PSM’s seven-member board, also heads a private TV station and news website aligned with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
The PSM has also faced criticism for showing live telecasts of President Abdulla Yameen’s campaign symposiums as well as several programmes promoting the current administration. It routinely airs talk shows with ruling party MPs and ministers without an opposition voice as a counterweight.
This year’s press freedom day ceremony meanwhile took place amidst an unprecedented crackdown on press freedom in the Maldives.
A majority of journalists who attended the function wore black in protest against the prosecution of Raajje TV staff, the court-ordered closure of Haveeru newspaper, the criminal court’s ban of reporters from four outlets, the appointment of Yameen’s campaign workers to the broadcasting regulator, and the government’s plans to criminalise defamation.
Some journalists also wore masking tape bands on their mouth in a symbolic protest against attempts to stifle freedom of expression. Some 183 journalists had signed a petition last month calling on the authorities to reverse the trend of declining press freedom.
Meanwhile, a speech read out on behalf of MMC President Mohamed Asif ‘Mondhu’ – who was unable to attend due to ill-health – highlighted the threats faced by Maldivian media.
The press freedom day dawned “amid the ringing of the warning bells of a brewing battle against journalism,” Mondhu said.
He called the abduction of The Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014 and the torching of Raajje TV studios in October 2013 “shocking” and “horrendous”.
Journalists constantly face intimidation and threats of violence, Asif said, calling on the authorities to end impunity for crimes against the media by bringing perpetrators to justice.
No one has been convicted to date over the near-fatal beating of former Raajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in February 2013 or the arson attack that destroyed the station’s office in October that year.
Charges were also never filed against a man who vandalised The Maldives Independent’s security cameras last year. The alleged gang leader was released by the criminal court despite video footage showing him stealing a CCTV camera.
In its 2016 press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders said that the Maldives remains “very hostile for independent and opposition media” since the February 2012 “coup d’état.” The Maldives has plummeted to 112th place on the RSF press freedom index during the past four years.