Making the Rounds
Just as the US has its red and blue states, Maldives has its own set of political colors. Blue is for the longtime ruling party (DRP), yellow for the MDP party that came to power in 2008, and pink for the new PPM party of longtime president Gayoom. According to the elections commission there will soon be a total of 17 parties, so it becomes difficult to find a new color that doesn’t already have a political meaning.
When I first came here in 2008, the government run TV station was painted blue, and then painted a tan-yellow after MDP came to power. This time it’s a mix of light bluish-green and tan, maybe an attempt to be more neutral.
TVM is now reorganized as a public service broadcaster, publicly funded and independently run by the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation. That was the first stop in a series of meetings to get input on the proposed guidelines for news coverage of the upcoming presidential elections. MBC has its own set of guidelines and is training journalists to follow a 122-page manual of best practices. MBC plans to organize presidential campaign debates and other channels are also free to conduct their own debates.
Next stop was Transparency Maldives, an independent NGO that has issued comprehensive reports on past elections and media monitoring. The group plans interactive features on its website, like a map that will allow journalists to click on areas where voting irregularities have been reported. Transparency Maldives is also pushing hard for a Right to Information bill to provide public access to government documents and sees a need to train journalists in how to use RTI for investigative reporting. But the bill won’t do anything to fix the major blind spot in Maldivian election law: candidates are not required to disclose the sources of their campaign funding.
A meeting with Election Commission confirmed that campaign finance reports are purely voluntary, and it is up to journalists to put pressure on candidates to be more transparent.The Election Commission would like more airtime for voter education and protects voter privacy on election day, by prohibiting close-ups of ballots and interviews with voters within 100 feet of a polling place.
The meeting with Raaje-TV officials gave some insight into the reality of being perceived as the voice of the opposition, in a country where even the public broadcaster has to deal with old-school thinking that the media is supposed to make the government look good. Chairman Akram Kamaludeen says his station covers “the stories that are hot,” and as a result it is often in hot water with the Broadcasting Commission. “We protect our sources and apologize for our mistakes,” he said, noting the channel has filed a court case to gain access to presidential and police news conferences.
Everyone seemed to like the idea of a guideline that would require the stations to give more time to the issues in the election, and giving a voice to ordinary people. A channel check of tonight’s prime time newscasts on all the channels showed only the talking heads of politicians. Only one story, about trash disposal, bothered to include the views of a citizen or two.
And finally, meet my team! Arshad and Shaaheen are working hard to set up the meetings and make sure everything goes smoothly. We’re back on the road again tomorrow.