Local TV station Raajje TV has announced that it will file a lawsuit against the Maldives Police Service (MPS) following their decision to not to cooperate with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)-aligned TV station.
In a statement the station claimed that the actions of the police narrowed the constitutional right to freedom of expression and the station’s freedom to practice journalism, and said that the actions of the police were depriving its reporters of their constitutional rights.
The case was filed in the Civil Court, with a request for the court to issue an order to the police to resume their support and cooperation with the TV station, and to hold that its withdrawal was illegitimate.
Civil Court has also confirmed that they have received the case.
Speaking to local media, Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Abdulla Yaamin said that police were discriminating against the station in collusion with other media outlets by inviting them to police press conferences and providing information.
“Due to these reasons we filed a lawsuit to invalidate the police decision. Because of it, our journalists do not get protection from them anymore,” he said.
Raajje TV has also accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.
A statement from Raajje TV on July 10 read: “Raajje TV journalists have been forced to live in fear as they have increasingly become targets of attacks by the national security forces, particularly the police service. The station also believes that these attacks and harassment has been the source of emotional distress and psychological damage to all Raajje TV employees.”
Last week police announced that they had stopped cooperating with Raajje TV, claiming that the opposition-aligned TV station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about police which had undermined their credibility and public confidence.
In a press statement released today, MPS stated that the decision was reached after the station had “deliberately and continuously broadcast false and baseless content with the intention to incite hatred” towards the institution.
“Also, Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit in with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries,” read the statement.
The decision from the police comes just a day after Raajje TV broadcasted CCTV video footage of some police officers, who the station alleged were “caught on video” while they were stealing petrol from a motorbike parked in a small road in Male’.
However police denied the allegations and condemned Raajje TV for spreading “false and untrue” information about them.
Superintendent of Police Abdulla Navaz in a press briefing dismissed the claims and said that the video footage was showing the police carrying out their legal duty.
Raajje TV had twisted the details and information in their news report, which Navaz said showed police confiscating a five litre container of petrol from the road.
He also stated that the container was confiscated after police on patrol duty noticed that someone had connected a pipe to steal petrol from a parked motorbike in the road.
“It was decided that we would find the owner of the motor bike and hand over the things that were confiscated. The petrol container is also kept under police observation as evidence,” he said.
Navaz showed the media documents filed during the confiscation.
In the press briefing he expressed concerns over Raajje TV’s “irresponsible” actions and said that the police would file complaints with concerned authorities.
Demand for apology
Following the broadcast of the video, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to the TV station stating that it had broadcast the content without checking its authenticity and was therefore ordered to apologise for their actions.
The MBC in the letter stated that following the broadcast of the video, police had denied the allegation and released details of the incident, but said the station had failed to inform the public of their error.
Raajje TV’s Deputy CEO Yaamin responded to the letter stating that the station had no intention of undermining the reputation of the police.
He also stated that the station had broadcast the entire recording of the police press briefing held to deny the allegations, giving them the opportunity to defend themselves from the allegations.
He also stated that police were very unresponsive to the queries of reporters from the station.
“They don’t give a proper response when we call to get a comment for a news piece. Even today, when our reporters went to cover the events where the murdered police officer was brought in Male, they sent us away saying that they cannot give us protection,” he said.
“Enemy of the state”
Following the murder of Lance Corporal Ahmed Haleem two days before, the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan alleged that that the TV station was responsible along with opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for attacks on police.
In a joint press conference held on the same day, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said that Raajje TV had spread “baseless allegations” about police brutality and the police role in the controversial change of government on February 7, thereby inciting and encouraging violence against the police and their families.
Jameel described MDP and Raajje TV as “enemies of the state,” while Riyaz said former President Mohamed Nasheed and senior MDP officials were behind the planning of psychological and physical attacks on the police.
“I note that former President Mohamed Nasheed is behind the planning of the attacks and damage caused to police property and repeated physical attacks on police officers,” Riyaz said.
Claiming Raajje TV’s reporting was “not responsible journalism,” Riyaz said that the station had spread baseless allegations regarding police brutality towards protesters and police role in the controversial change of government.
“Raajje TV has repeatedly attempted to defame and raise questions over police professionalism by broadcasting baseless allegations to create distrust towards the police,” he added.
He went on to refute the TV station’s CCTV video footage that suggested police had stolen fuel from parked motor cycles, claiming Raajje TV was attempting to falsely cast the entire police force as “brutal” and as “thieves.”
Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters of the country and is the only opposition-aligned TV station the country. The TV station has come under pressure and criticism from the government and political parties aligned to government for its opposition coverage.
The TV station first went on air as “Future TV” in 2008, but started broadcasting as “Raajje TV” in 2011. Its audience increased dramatically following the takeover of the state broadcaster by the police and military on February 7.