Valentine’s Day Controversy
We can’t assume that independence in presidential coverage will carry over to other hot topics in this rapidly changing country. Case in point: Valentine’s Day.
Every store in Male seems to be running a special promotion of flowers and other gifts for your sweetheart. It’s a booming business! Problem is that it’s fundamentally a Christian or pagan holiday (the origins are murky) and definitely NOT Muslim.
If you define news as what people are talking about, this was the day’s top story. The morning TV news meeting dissolved into a debate about who was observing the day with their sweetie and who wasn’t. So, I assigned Shifla to put together a story about the economic impact of Valentines Day, talk to some young people who are celebrating, and talk with a religious expert about the issues involved. Bob assigned a similar story on the radio side.
Rameez put his foot down and said the story would not air. He recalled a past incident when the programming department aired a Valentines special featuring music that would put you “in the mood” with your loved one. The producer was somehow disciplined, although the exact punishment is not clear to me because there are differing reports on whether there is such a thing as the religious police. We were all pretty frazzled from the presidential coverage battle, Rameez is suffering from a severe cold that is now bordering on pneumonia due to overwork, and the last thing he needs is another battle with religious authorities.
After checking around to make sure I wasn’t violating some cultural norms, I feel confident that we can do this story as long as it is balanced and clearly explains the religious view.
The picture shows one of the many displays encouraging people to buy “Love Hampers.” One of the more inventive promotions includes a free thong with your purchase of roses.
Update: There were a few negative calls to the newsroom after the English language newscast aired. Afru, one of the English newscast producers, did an English version of Shifla’s story. But his standup close was different! He implied that the celebration of Valentines Day has raised the question of whether Maldives is now a “secular country.” Ouch! Just because you send a flower to your sweetie doesn’t mean you are renouncing an entire religion for the whole country. I would never have approved this standup if I knew he was doing it. Now that TV and radio has editorial independence we have to choose our words carefully. The process of script approval becomes even more important, not for censorship but to make sure we are saying what we mean to say.