Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yamin has accused the security forces of “physical and psychological intimidation.”
Speaking at a luncheon hosted by deposed President Mohamed Nasheed to mark International Press Freedom Day, Yamin said the station had operated with freedom and “without any fear” before the change of power on February 7. Nasheed alleges he had resigned from office “under duress” in a coup d’état on February 7.
But since the transfer of power Raajje TV reporters have experienced physical attacks and have been threatened by security forces, Yamin said. Further, he said ministers of the current administration had refused to engage with the station.
“I have no certainty I can safely go home after saying this here,” Yamin said.
However, President of the Maldives Journalists Association ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir and President of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) Ahmed Nazeef said they did not see any obstacles to media freedom in the country.
The TV station first went on air as “Future TV” in 2008, but started broadcasting as “Raajje TV” in 2011. Ruling coalition supporters say the station is biased towards ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
No time for Raajje TV
Raajje TV presenters Qufthaq Ajeer and Mohamed Jinah were assaulted and threatened with sharp weapons in Hulhumalé on April 15. Jinah was stabbed in the back and Ajeer was hit in the eye, Yamin said.
Further, on February 8 security forces had threatened to damage Raajje TV equipment unless reporters ended live coverage of an MDP protest and left the Republican Square area, Yamin said.
“The police told us ‘Stop your coverage now or we will break your cameras,’ and then they forcibly pushed us out of the area,” he said.
Video footage of the MDP’s protest on February 8 show police tear gassing and brutally beating unarmed civilians in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building near the Republican Square.
The police had also “smashed” Raajje TV equipment while dismantling MDP previous protest camp “Insaafuge Maidhan” (Justice Square) at Raalhugandu on March 19. Police dismantled the site claiming “unlawful acts” were being planned in the area.
“We thought that since we were the media, the police wouldn’t harm our equipment. But we saw the police smashing our TV monitors and damaging our equipment. When we went to the police for compensation, they told us to go to the courts,” Yamin said.
New President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza had told Yamin that the ruling coalition had wanted to “destroy” Raajje TV but stopped on Dr Waheed’s intervention, he claimed.
Further, Waheed’s ministers refused to engage with Raajje TV “impeding our right to information,” Yamin said. “They tell us ‘If it’s Raajje TV, we have no time.’”
Although Yamin contends freedom of press has deteriorated since the change of power, President of the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir said he does not believe “there are challenges to freedom of the press today.”
Speaking at the same luncheon, Zahir said the executive had always tried to influence the press and that it was “the natural” way of things. He also noted that Maldivian media is politically biased serving different political interests. He told President Nasheed the media had experienced intimidation during his administration as well.
Zahir has long opposed Nasheed’s decision to stop the government from advertising in commercial newspapers, claiming the move had bankrupted many outlets and led to the closure of several newspapers. President Waheed on Thursday pledged to resume advertising.
Meanwhile, MMC President Nazeef said he did not see explicit attempts by the state at violating press freedom. But he expressed concern over Majlis Financial Committee’s decision to abolish the MMC and transfer its functions to the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).
The committee 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 decision to annul MMC was an attempt by the Majlis to influence the media by changing media regulation from a “self-regulatory mechanism to a regulatory mechanism,” Nazeef said.
Last month, the offices of private broadcaster Villa Television (VTV) were attacked during confrontations between security forces and alleged anti-government protesters in Male’ on March 19.
VTV was briefly brought off air following the incident – an act claimed by the station’s owner to be tantamount to “terrorism”. Local media bodies also criticised protesters for allegedly threatening journalists and media personnel covering the clashes.