The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has taken to the decision to provide security services to various media outlets across the country following the arson attack on opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.
MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News that military officers were now manning “almost all” the country’s television stations as well as the premises of other media outlets.
Colonel Raheem said that, rather than being a reaction to a specific threat, the MNDF had decided to assign officers to guard a number of media stations immediately following the arson attack that destroyed Raajje TV’s offices in Male’ this morning.
“This was our own decision, although some [media] have requested they be provided protection,” he said, adding that officers had also been deployed to Raajje TV, which relaunched its broadcasting this afternoon.
He added that MNDF officers were acting as part of ongoing efforts to provide security for any areas deemed “vulnerable”, having previously provided similar support in the past for the Maldives’ electricity and water infrastructure.
The Maldives Police Service today said it was not involved with the MNDF’s security operation, with its own officers instead performing patrols outside the perimeters of media organisations.
Raajje TV was attacked by a group of masked individuals who doused the station’s computers, desks and main lobby with petrol. The office’s guard was later stabbed and hospitalised with critical injuries.
The attack took place despite the station having previously requested police protection following warnings of an impending attack.
Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed this morning that police had received the letter requesting security, and said they “took action by patrolling the area.”
The attack is the second raid on the station’s building by masked assailants. During the first attack – in August 2012 – assailants sabotaged equipment in the station and cut critical cables.
The main office of Villa TV (VTV), a private broadcaster owned by Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader – and third-placed presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim – was attacked during anti-government protests on March 19, 2012.
Extensive damage was reportedly caused to VTV and its property, with the station briefly being brought off air – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”.
The Maldives Media Council meanwhile today released a statement condemning the Raajje TV attack as an attempt to “eliminate” one of the country’s most watched broadcasters, calling for security forces to do more to protect media outlets and journalists.
“In view of that, MMC has continuously requested to investigate these cases and asked security providers to be more attentive to media security issues. MMC is consciously discussing all relevant stakeholders to ensure protection of journalists and media stations.”
The MMC last week declared its intention to file a no-confidence motion in the Majlis against Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) members via Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee.
The council stated its belief that the broadcasting commission had failed to create a healthy broadcast media environment, instead creating fear and discomfort, and that it was therefore unable to fulfill the Broadcasting Act’s mandates.
MMC member and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir meanwhile today maintained that media should not cover live events and other developments in the country in a manner that would incite violence.
Zahir confirmed the MCC also published a statement yesterday (October 6) criticising any media found to be trying to incite institutions or individuals to perform violent acts.
The statement specifically condemned any media found to be spreading calls for “terrorism and unrest”, something it said was not permitted even in nations regarded as leading in international standards of press freedom.
Zahir said that the MCC were aware of a number of examples where numerous unspecified media outlets had been covering news in a way that could create unrest.
“Sometimes the language used by [these media outlets] goes beyond what is acceptable within democratic values,” he said.
Zahir cited one notable example of media inciting unrest was by covering the statements of certain politicians who encouraged people to “violate the law” and go against state institutions.
He added that all media had a responsibility to the nation to decide whether or not to cover statements that might lead to violence or unrest.
Asked if the MMC’s statements could infringe on constitutionally-guaranteed press freedom, Zahir argued that the media oversight body was responsible under law to ensure such media freedoms were used in the “right manner”.
“The point is media needs to work for a better society. Media freedom has to be for the betterment of society,” he clarified today.