Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Continuing a trend from previous years, a modest expansion of media diversity and public debate in 2007 was balanced by official harassment of journalists. Freedom of expression and of the press are not provided for in the constitution and are often disregarded by the government in practice. Although new regulations in January 2007 dramatically reduced damages for defamation, the legal environment remains harsh. The penal code bans speech or actions that could “arouse people against the government”; a 1968 law prohibits speech considered libelous, inimical to Islam, or a threat to national security; regulations make editors responsible for the content of material they publish; and authorities are empowered by law to shut newspapers and sanction journalists for articles containing unfounded criticism of the government. The Information Ministry, which is spearheading reform efforts, submitted four media-related bills to parliament in February 2006, including bills on freedom of information, press freedom, a proposed Media Council, and registration of print media. Though discussion continued on them in the parliament throughout 2007, none had passed by year’s end and two had been withdrawn. In a positive development, the Maldives Media Association, which includes representatives from both pro-opposition and state-run media, began operating in October.
Journalists, particularly those who cover demonstrations or who write critical stories, continue to be subject to arrest or other forms of harassment. Many journalists practice self-censorship and do not scrutinize official policies. During 2007, reporters and photographers from both pro-opposition and state-owned media were arrested while covering protests, illegal prayer meetings, and a taxi drivers’ strike. In April, Ibrahim Mohamed, a reporter for the progovernment Miadhu newspaper, was held by police for more than a day after taking photographs of police beating opposition Maldivian Democratic Party leader Mohamed Nasheed. Several journalists were also detained during a demonstration marking World Press Freedom Day in May. Owing to Minivan’s overtly antigovernment stance, its management and employees have been particularly targeted for official intimidation. In January 2007, Phillip Wellman, a foreign reporter for the English-language Minivan News website, was expelled and banned for two years. Journalist Abdullah Saeed continued to serve a life prison sentence after being convicted in 2006 of apparently fabricated drug charges. In June, Minivan Daily journalist Ali Rasheed was arrested and held for 43 days after being interviewed by the Qatar-based satellite station Al-Jazeera. Following his release, he was sentenced in absentia to life in prison on drug charges and remained in custody at year’s end. In a positive development, the government dropped some charges against Minivan Daily editor Aminath Najeeb and deputy editor Nazim Sattar, but Najeeb still faced jail time on charges of “disobedience of an order.”
Most broadcast media continue to be government owned and operated, and although these outlets have recently provided more diverse and vigorous coverage, they continue to reflect progovernment views. Since a 2005 law liberalized the registration process, scores of publications have been registered, including six daily newspapers. Many of the key periodicals are owned by those connected to the government, but some publications, such as Adduvas, Jazeera, and Hamma, have adopted a more critical, balanced tone. The pro-opposition Minivan Daily, which started as an online publication, now circulates a print version in the Maldives. In 2007, the country’s first private broadcasters—radio stations Capital and DhiFM as well as Atoll TV—were launched; however, their independence remained limited because operating licenses were granted via individual agreements with the government rather than through reformed broadcasting legislation. The more overtly antigovernment Minivan Radio was unable to obtain a frequency owing to the prohibitive costs of obtaining a frequency license. Although the country’s sole internet service provider is state owned, the internet is generally not restricted. However, the pro-opposition Dhivehi Observer website has been blocked. The internet was accessed by less than 6 percent of the population in 2007.