Maldives media offer first-hand accounts

Violent clashes between police and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters continued in the streets of the capital, Malé, on Thursday night, according to international news reports. You can read CPJ’s news alert on journalists swept up in the unrest–and background on the demonstrations–here, and some lively discussion on the situation here.

The heat still seems to be on pro-opposition private TV station Raajje TV. Local newspaper Haveeru reports that the country’s broadcasting commission has told them their coverage of the protests is against the broadcasting code of conduct due to “explicit content.” Haveeru did not report on what penalty the station could face for breaching the code. Zaheena Rasheed, a Minivan News journalist at the protests, provided CPJ with this account by email:

Raajje TV reporters told me police had kept watch on them and had been verbally abusive all night. At one point around 3 a.m., protesters set fire to a police motorbike. A policeman came looking for the Raajje TV crew then, and they overheard police in riot gear say “Let’s beat them up, destroy them and the station.” That’s when they stopped [their live feed] of the protests. 

Calls to Raajje TV reporters rang unanswered, and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission did not immediately reply to an email sent this morning. Police have not yet responded to CPJ’s request for comment, emailed Thursday. We are continuing to monitor the situation.

We gathered more responses overnight. Mohamed Ameeth, the DhiTV presenter whose altercation with MDP protesters we documented, sent us his own version of events via his personal Twitter account: “MDP protesters knocked me to the ground, calling me a traitor & continued beating, until a friend of mine among protesters saved me.”

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s office said in a press release Thursday that “A number of journalists have been injured by activists, including a television presenter from private broadcaster DhiTV.” CPJ has faxed and emailed the president seeking comment regarding attacks carried out by police. We’ll let you know what we hear back.

We also reached out to Minivan News, a long-time source for CPJ, for comment regarding their editorial independence. Here’s what JJ Robinson, the editor, had to say:

Minivan News (the website) was started by Nasheed’s MDP in 2004, together with Minivan Radio and Minivan Daily (a print publication). Minivan Radio and the paper were essentially propaganda, but at the same time, they were the first dissident media outlets presenting an opinion other than that of the autocracy.

Minivan News was slightly different–it has always been headed by a foreign editor/journalist with an outside, apolitical perspective, who reports and trains young Maldivian journalists to cover human rights abuses, corruption cases etc. Pre-2008, this transparency was politically detrimental to the dictatorship, hence the MDP backing at the time.

Following the election won by Nasheed, the MDP backing ceased and the radio and paper folded. Minivan News, however, by that stage had the country’s highest standard of journalism and was relied upon by the international community. Without political funding, it was left to survive on its own merits by marketing its high-value audience and selling banner advertising. It’s been a hand-to-mouth existence, but Minivan News survives by being a lean, no-frills operation.

So while we are genuinely independent – certainly this is the most editorial freedom I’ve ever had in my 10 year journalism career – we recognize the challenges of our political heritage. All we can do is let the content speak for itself, always give the opportunity to respond to both sides regardless of their opinion of us, and let people take us to task in the comment section where they feel we have erred.

The MDP recently restarting Minivan Daily has been confusing a lot of people. It probably doesn’t help that Nasheed’s brother, Nazim Sattar, is still listed as the ‘Minivan’ editor with the Department of Information from the 2004 days.

Generally speaking though, our approach has worked and our independence has been validated by our growing audience, which is increasing 50%+ year on year. Ironically, while the former opposition regard us with suspicion due to our MDP roots, the MDP at times regards us as traitorous for the very same reason. In fact it’s fair to say that our success is measured in how few friends we have!