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Court upholds Medianet fine over Al Jazeera documentary

Medianet was fined for not blocking Al Jazeera when a corruption exposé aired.



The Civil Court has upheld a fine imposed on a cable TV provider for not blocking Al Jazeera during the broadcast of a documentary exposing corruption in the Maldives, local media reported.

Medianet was fined MVR500,000 (US$32,425) and ordered to apologise for not blocking the channel during the transmission of Stealing Paradise, which revealed systemic corruption, abuse of power and criminal activity at the highest level of government.

The award-winning documentary from the Doha-based channel was deemed to pose a national security threat by the government-controlled Maldives Broadcasting Commission, which imposed the fine under the widely condemned anti-defamation law.

Medianet sued the MBC after paying the fine, asking the court to nullify the penalty. Medianet is the largest pay-TV broadcaster in the Maldives.

But the court ruled in favour of the MBC last Thursday, saying it was clear the documentary expressed views that endangered the independence and sovereignty of the Maldives.

Judge Ali Abdulla said there was no evidence to nullify the fine.

Medianet had decided not to block the documentary’s original broadcast in September 2016 despite a warning from the MBC of possible action under the anti-defamation law, which criminalises speech or content deemed to be defamatory, anti-Islamic, in breach of social norms, or a threat to national security.

Medianet said it had sought an opinion from the commission about blocking the documentary, but the MBC said it was not a body that dictated to broadcasters.

MBC argued that Medianet had failed to fulfill its responsibility to check Stealing Paradise “for any content that contravened Maldivian law.”

The MBC also dismissed Medianet’s legal defence.

According to article 15 of the anti-defamation law, official privilege can be used as a defence against defamation complaints concerning the rebroadcast of “information in a report officially published by a foreign organisation or a foreign body or a foreign court or a foreign state.”

Medianet argued that Al Jazeera as “a media organisation registered in a foreign country” would fall under the exception.

However, citing legal advice from the Attorney General’s office, the MBC said the provision did not apply to foreign media organisations.

Stealing Paradise was based on new evidence gathered from three mobile phones of former vice president Ahmed Adeeb. It also featured secretly filmed confessions by three associates of Yameen’s jailed former deputy about delivering stolen cash to the president.

The government later dismissed the documentary as “defamatory and biased” and accused the Qatari broadcaster of advancing the opposition’s agenda.

The Maldives has since severed 33-year-old diplomatic relations with Qatar.