Parliament’s financial committee announced its intention to abolish the Maldives Media Council (MMC) in a report that will be submitted to the house for debate as part of tomorrow’s scheduled agenda.
The report states that the decision has been reached owing to the Solicitor General’s belief that the MMC has not been able to perform its duties and responsibilities to a satisfactory level.
The 15 member MMC, established in 2010, is charged with preserving the freedom and integrity of media in the Maldives as well as encouraging ethical and professional standards within the industry.
The MMC was scheduled to hold elections for new council members on May 10.
President of the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir disagrees with the decision of the finance committee.
“First of all let’s look at the reason they have given for disbanding the media council. They are saying it must be disbanded because the council had not executed its responsibilities. But if it is not a justifiable reason. If the council members are not fulfilling their duties, then they must be removed from the position, new members must be appointed and the council must proceed,” he said.
“Disbanding the council just because the members are not working is like dissolving the parliament because members are not working – which is absurd,” said Hiriga.
Additionally, the financial committee will suggest to the house that the responsibilities of the MMC be transferred to the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) whose current remit covers only television and radio broadcasts.
Hiriga expressed concerns over this idea: “There are talks of assigning the task of print media regulation to the existing Broadcasting Commission. But we must remember that the commission’s composition and mandate is very much structured to regulate the broadcast or electronic media; not the print,” said Hiriga.
“If they are going to reassign the tasks, they must change the composition of the Broadcasting Commission to encourage representation of members more experienced in print media. Because the existing members are screened and selected for the position because of their expertise in electronic media,” Hiriga continued.
Additionally, the current President of the MMC Mohamed Nazeef, believes that the MBC cannot safeguard media freedoms adequately as it is a regulatory arm of the government.
“Parliament elected most of the members of the commission and so it will be hard for them to be independent from the government,” said Nazeef.
In accordance with the Maldives Media Council Act, the MMC operates as an independent legal entity.
Chairman of the finance committee Ahmed Nazim said that the establishment of the MBC has resulted in an overlap of the two bodies’ responsibilities. He said that he hoped to establish a single body “similar to Ofcom in the UK.”
Ofcom is the UK’s independent regulator and competition authority for the communications industry, created by an act of parliament in 2003. The legislation states that the group should protect the interests of citizens and consumers.
Nazim said that the necessary legislation to facilitate the adaptation of the MBC would be introduced by the Public Affairs Committee (PAC) and formed part of the financial committee’s report.
The financial committee’s report also highlights the findings of the Auditor General’s (AG) report from last year which claimed that council members had been illegally receiving a living allowance of Rf7500 (US$500) a month in addition to their salary.
Hiriga stated his agreement that certain aspects of the financial committee’s report held merit, but suggested that legal safeguards would be needed to protect the media.
“We have always maintained that media needs to be self regulated and it must be done under one body,” he said.
“We have no objection to dissolving the media council as such. But if it is being done, then mechanisms to regulate print media must be introduced, the Broadcasting Commission’s composition and legal mandate must be amended. Otherwise it will be an unfair decision.”