Proposed election law change threatens reporting freedom in Maldives: RSF

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih seen with journalists after a press conference following a 6 month hiatus on December 28, 2022 at the President's Office about the progress of the administration's socioeconomic plans. | Photo: President’s Office

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the government of the Maldives to withdraw a proposed amendment to its election law that would prevent freelance and foreign journalists from covering voting and vote-counting in next September’s presidential election.

The RSF says the proposed amendment to the General Elections Act would restrict the freedom to report the news and fuel suspicion about vote-rigging.

Under the proposed changes, only “registered journalists” – meaning staff journalists with government-approved media outlets – would be admitted to polling stations and vote-counting places. In practice, this means that freelancers and foreign reporters would be barred. The amendment has been drafted without consulting journalists and submitted to parliament just six months before the major election, which sends an alarming signal about reporting freedom and democracy in the Maldives.

Daniel Bastard, Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk

The bill, which does not define “registered journalists,” could be interpreted restrictively to deny access to local reporters, which could encourage fears and suspicions about vote-rigging, challenges and disputes that only journalists motivated by a desire to serve the public interest could help to resolve.

The proposed amendment seems particularly inappropriate for elections in the Maldives, an archipelago of small islands in which the leading media are obliged to temporarily recruit local reporters in order to cover polling and vote counting at the local level.

“If you look at the way they have phrased these amendments, it’s clear they want to stop freelancers and foreign journalists from covering the election. The amendment could have a major impact on press freedom. Journalists’ rights should not be left without clarification,” a freelance journalist who asked not to be identified told RSF.

While there have been no issues about accrediting journalists based on previous practices and no reported incidents of journalists acting against the code of conduct for media monitors, we believe that there is a malicious intent for proposing this amendment.

Maldives Journalists Association general secretary Ahmed Naif

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s election in 2018 ended a vicious cycle of press freedom violations, but despite his firm undertakings to respect freedom, his term has been marred by repressive legislative initiatives.

Last July, RSF expressed its vehement opposition to the adoption of a law clearly violating the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. RSF has called on Solih’s government to immediately withdraw this dangerous bill and to ensure that the media can play their role as independent election observers without hindrance.