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)
- The Maldives made gains in media freedom in 2009, as the environment for free and unfettered reporting continued to improve. However, a slowdown of legal reforms and continuing official interference in editorial policies at the public broadcast outlets remained areas of concern.
- The 2008 constitution protects freedom of expression, but also places restrictions on speech deemed “contrary to the tenets of Islam.” The overall legal framework protecting free expression remained weak in 2009, with many proposed media reform bills still awaiting passage.
- In June 2009, the first criminal defamation case in many years commenced against Hameed Abdul Kareem, former editor of Manas magazine, who was accused of defaming Chief Justice Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim. However, in November the parliament passed an amendment to the penal code that abolished criminal defamation.
- A 2008 law called for the establishment of a Media Council tasked with developing a code of conduct for media workers and investigating complaints from the public. Although the council would ostensibly be independent, consisting of media workers and members of the public, critics argued that the body could be used to improperly punish journalists and that a purely self-regulatory mechanism would be preferable. The Media Council law had not been implemented by the end of 2009.
- Government promises to create a more editorially independent public broadcaster remained unrealized in 2009, as legislation to that end stalled in the parliament. Both local and international watchdogs noted that the state-owned Television Maldives and Voice of Maldives Radio still suffered from progovernment bias.
- While the Commonwealth Expert Team observing the May 2009 parliamentary elections did not conduct dedicated media analysis, they noted that newspaper coverage “appeared to be forthright and openly covered a variety of political topics.”
- The Maldives Journalist Association accused the government of interference with the private media in a number of cases, citing “the summoning of officials of private television stations DhiTV and VTV to the Department of Information on various occasions; the obtaining of audio material from DhiFM for review and later taking points off from DhiFM’s Broadcasting License for alleged ‘incitement to violence’; and the entry into DhiFM private radio station by police.”
- Journalists remain subject to some harassment. A spate of attacks in mid-2009 included separate assaults on editor Ahmed Zahir of the private daily Haveeru by governing party supporters in Male, and reporter Ibrahim Rasheed of Television Maldives by members of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party as he covered the arrival of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom at a police station.
- An estimated 200 private broadcast outlets and publications operated throughout the country, according to the U.S. State Department. However, these were authorized through individual agreements with the government rather than new broadcasting legislation, limiting their legal protections. Moreover, broadcasters remain subject to high annual licensing fees and must be relicensed every year. The number of private radio stations has increased to at least six, while the country’s first private television channels, DhiTV and VTV, began operating in 2008.
- Some print publications are owned by Gayoom allies or other political actors, who exercise considerable control over content. Most newspapers are not profitable and rely on financial backing from businessmen with strong political interests.
- Private media came under further financial pressure in September, when the government began publishing its notices and advertisements in the weekly official gazette. Previously, such notices had been printed in a range of media outlets and had been a major source of revenue for private publications.
- The government generally did not interfere with the internet, which was accessed by about 28 percent of the population in 2009, a significant increase from the previous year. Although blocks on opposition-oriented websites, such as the Dhivehi Observer, had been lifted in 2008, several internet sites that were deemed unfit for public consumption were reportedly blocked in late 2008 and early 2009 on orders from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The blocked sites tended to be religious rather than political, with several accused of promoting Christianity and one Islamic site allegedly criticizing the ministry.