A New Media Landscape in Maldives

It’s been almost five years since the island country of Maldives held its first multiparty presidential election. Now I’m back for the 2013 election to help formulate guidelines for election news coverage in a very different media landscape. While getting over jet-lag from two days of flying to the other side of the world, I turned on the TV for a channel check.

Moosa Waseem on TVM

In 2008, I came here to prepare the state-run TV and radio station for the election. Besides the government-run station there were only two very new TV stations and some private radio. Now there will be a total of 33 broadcast channels, most of them privately-run and covering the news from a biased point of view. The former government channel, TVM, is now a public service broadcaster trying to define its role in fair and transparent coverage.  While flipping channels, I saw some of the newscasters who were in my 2008 training program. Anchor Moosa Waseem presides over TVM’s main newscast at 8 pm.

Hassan Ziyaa covers politics on TVM.

He was followed by Hassan Ziyaa hosting a half-hour public affairs broadcast, putting questions to some transportation officials in a crisp, open and professional manner.

Announcer on Raaje-TV.

New on the dial is Raaje TV, described by one media observer as “the voice of the opposition.” Even to someone who doesn’t speak Dhivehi, the bias was immediately clear; an announcer  introduced a series of very long soundbites from Mohammed Nasheed, the president who was elected in 2008 and resigned under pressure in 2011. There didn’t seem to be any effort to question what Nasheed was saying, put it in context or have anyone from a different party respond. I could see right away why broadcasting officials see a need to clarify the rules of fair and transparent election coverage. Another channel is part of the business holdings of Gasim Ibrahim, a wealthy business leader  and member of Parliament who is also contesting for president. All joking aside about the bias of Fox or MSNBC, it’s hard to imagine a US political candidate with the ability to promote himself on his very own TV station. Would our laws allow it? Would the candidate be forced to formally disassociate himself from the day to day running of the channel in order to run for office?

Before turning off the TV, I saw Hamza Rasheed announcing the sports news on TVM. A former participant in the 2008 training program, his eyes reflected his genuine interest and excitement about sports competition.

TVM sportscaster Hamza Rasheed

It would be so nice if election coverage could be the same way, with all of the competing teams getting the airtime they deserve. You can’t cover a game by only mentioning one team, and it’s pretty boring if you just tell the score without some explanation of why the teams won or lost. You have referees to make sure the game is fair.

It would be so simple if we could bring the values of covering sports into the political arena. In Maldives, it’s time to play ball.