Private broadcaster Raajje TV launched Friday a new fundraising drive to pay off a record MVR2 million (US$129,807) fine imposed by the broadcasting regulator.
The fine was punishment for airing a speech during an opposition protest that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen as well as a threat to national security. But the opposition-aligned station says the real purpose is to obstruct its coverage of the presidential campaign.
The fundraising effort was launched Friday afternoon by joint opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu,’ who condemned the hefty fine as arbitrary and symptomatic of imperilled press freedom in the Maldives.
A fund box was placed outside the Raajje TV office in Malé as opposition running mate Faisal Naseem opened a box on the island of Hinnavaru in Lhaviyani atoll.
Fundraising continued Saturday morning on the nearby island of Naifaru. The station has made arrangements for supporters in the atolls to make donations.
Raajje TV is watched by most opposition supporters across the country.
Previous fines were paid off with funds raised from wellwishers.
According to regulations enacted under the law, media outlets can be fined between MVR50,000 and MVR500,000 for a first offence, and up to MVR2 million after the third offence.
Failure to pay the fine within 30 days could result in the station being shut down.
The Maldives Broadcasting Commission – which previously slapped fines totalling MVR1.7 million on the station – is stacked with Yameen loyalists including campaign workers. Some commission members used to be employed by the first lady’s office and have been involved in organising political events for the ruling coalition.
Raajje TV called the fourth fine “a calculated and well coordinated attack to obstruct its efforts to make President Yameen’s government accountable ahead of next month’s presidential election.”
In April, Sangu TV paid off an MVR100,000 defamation fine in a cash-filled urn.
Last month, the Civil Court 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.