The president of the print and online media regulator has called for journalists to practice their profession “as broadly as possible” within new legal restrictions, even as international organisations criticised authorities for cracking down on the press.
The Maldives Media Council has done “important work” towards establishing a conducive environment “within the legal framework that was in force when the [council] began the current term“, Abdul Mueed Hassan said in his message on World Press Freedom Day last week.
“[This was done] in order to remove the perception that the law is an obstacle to the work of journalists and to make the law a warrant that gives power and strength to journalism,” he said last Thursday.
Mueed’s statement came days after Reporters without Borders (RSF) said the 2016 anti-defamation law was being used to intimidate and force the shut down of media outlets.
In its 16th South Asia Press Freedom Report released last week, the International Federation of Journalists accused the Maldivian authorities of restricting free speech and silencing dissident voices.
“State attempts to restrict press freedom resulted in fear among the media and journalists at a scale that critical news was difficult to publish in media operated from within the Maldives,” the IFJ observed.
“Self-censorship – especially in issues critical to the government and anything relating to the opposition – was widespread and apparent in media content in the country.”
Citing credible information, the opposition-aligned Raajje TV reported last month that a local gang was offered MVR140,000 (US$9,000) to attack its chief operating officer.
At a regulatory level the home ministry in March delayed the introduction of tough new rules about who can be an editor after the council interceded. The rules require editors 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.
Foreign journalists have been mostly unwelcome in the Maldives since an award-winning Al Jazeera documentary in late 2016 exposed massive corruption.
Most recently, two AFP journalists were deported during the state of emergency with the Immigration Department citing visa violations.
The 15-member media council is comprised of journalists and members of the public elected by media workers.