Malé, Maldives – Following a one-week mission to the Maldives, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has released a report calling out the need for greater efforts to overcome the obstacles faced by the Maldivian media.
The report, which highlighted several key areas of importance to this regard, was formulated after meeting with working journalists, editors, Maldives Police and the Maldives Media Council (MMC), in addition to other industry stakeholders and legal experts.
Although the report very briefly highlighted the recent amendments to the highly problematic Evidence Act which remains an overarching concern to journalists across the country, the IFJ noted other significant issues of concern in more detail.
Key issues identified by the IFJ include:
- The continuing influence of political appointments to the Maldives Broadcasting Commission and Public Service Media;
- A rife and industry-wide practice of docking journalist salaries, a practice which violates labour rights;
- Women journalists leaving the industry due to cultural and industry pressures;
- A lack of professional training opportunities for journalists and awareness training on media rights and responsibilities;
- Accreditation obstacles for freelance journalists;
- Registration of ‘shell media’ companies, whose politically motivated votes continue to influence the composition and legitimacy of the Maldives Media Council;
- The impact of the culture of impunity and religious extremism on media independence and diverse voices in the Maldives;
- Timely access to information and turnaround responses from government and state departments;
- The need for a revised code of ethics in line with international standards;
- The prevalence of journalists employed without formal job contracts;
- A lack of an industrial or legislative framework to protect the rights of workers, including media workers.
“The IFJ was gravely concerned to learn of the widespread industry practice of ‘docking’ journalists’ salaries by media companies when journalists were deemed to be underperforming or not filing a set number of stories per day. This arbitrary practice is a violation of journalists’ labour rights and is not conducive to the production of quality journalism,” the IFJ said.
IFJ also noted the widespread lack of employment contracts and obstacles to accreditation, especially for freelance journalists, and expressed the vital need for worker rights to be protected through a more strengthened labour rights frame work.
The IFJ further called on the Maldives government for an urgent investigation in to the shell media companies established as political influence fronts. It also called for a transparent reporting of this investigation.
“The issue is particularly pertinent given that all registered media companies are eligible to vote for members of the Maldives Media Council (MMC). With the new MMC election dates announced this week, the IFJ and its affiliate, the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), maintain that media outlets not in the regular service of journalism production should be removed from voting contention in the upcoming elections to ensure legitimate media worker interests are represented,” the IFJ reported.
The report then discussed concerns of journalists highlighted to the IFJ during trainings with its affiliate, MJA. “Discussions centred on issues including ongoing impunity for threats, attacks and forced disappearances of media workers, political influences on regulatory bodies, impediments to sustained careers in journalism for women, labour and employment rights issues and the ongoing lack of an industrial framework for Maldivian workers across the board,” the report said.
“The IFJ met with leaders from the Maldivian Trade Union Congress and has welcomed moves by the media industry to join lobbying efforts to the government on worker rights and protections. Following this meeting, the MJA Executive Committee unanimously passed a motion to launch a membership bid on August 24 to join the nation’s Trade Union Congress,” the report further noted.
The IFJ recommended the need for a media working group to improve communications between the police and the media. It also highlighted the need for greater female representation in unions and decision-making roles.
The establishment of a media rights mechanism for the country would also go a long way to raise awareness of journalist rights and media violations and also serve to educate the industry on professional standards for journalism.