Maldives National University has been asked to create a special programme for experienced journalists, after the Home Ministry delayed the introduction of tough new rules about who can be an editor.
A regulation gazetted in January imposed new criteria that editors at registered media outlets had to meet.
Editors need to be Maldivian, aged 25 and above, have a degree in journalism or a related field as well as five years experience at a ministry-registered media organisation. It is unclear what will happen to outlets whose editors do not meet these criteria.
News outlets now have an 18-month window for their editors to meet the education requirement, a tough ask given that the most recent census said fewer than 500 resident Maldivians had degrees.
Dr Ali Fawaz, MNU’s vice chancellor, said it had been approached by the Home Ministry.
“We already have a journalism degree program,” he told the Maldives Independent. “Other than that we have been asked to consider a special programme for experienced journalists. We will be able to come up with details on that in about three weeks and hopefully be able to open for the July intake.”
Deputy Minister Mohamed Tholal said the rules would not be imposed for another 18 months.
“We are talking with some of the universities and colleges here and have come to an understanding on what the programme is going to be,” he told the Maldives Independent. It will be a degree programme that can be completed within 18 months so that the educational requirement for editors is met. We are still finalizing details, but hoping to launch it for the July intake of educational institutions,” he said.
The Maldives Media Council had been advocating for the government to relax the educational requirement rule.
Azmee Ali, editor of Dhuvas, an online newspaper based in Laamu atoll, told the Maldives Independent that concerns remained even with the 18-month reprieve.
“They are saying that they will have a new programme for journalists. This is still difficult for local island level papers. We are based in Laamu atoll and have a few journalists in Malé.
“For a training programme editors will have to move to Malé for a long period of time. There has to be an easier way for it, something like online classes,” Azmee said.
Mohamed Sharafudheen, editor of Addu Online, was also worried.
“There has to be an easier way. Something like a block mode programme even. It would be difficult for editors based in islands to stay in Malé for a long period,” he said.
He underlined the effect the new regulations would have on island newspapers and community journalism.
“We are seeing that community journalism is now flourishing. This is important because it is easy for people living in islands or constituencies to focus on real issues and hold elected local officials as well as MPs accountable. This regulation challenges that and can lead to the shut down of several island news outlets,” he said.