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Maldives an important threshold of media freedom

The Maldives at an important threshold of media freedom; the government ready to face the challenges with a renewed sense of optimism

Four important bills forming part of the Government’s media reform package would be tabled in the People’s Majlis (Parliament) in early March when the Majlis commence its first session for 2006.

The media reform package includes; a Freedom of Press Bill, a Freedom of Information Bill, a Maldives Media Council Bill, a Bill on the Registration and Publication of Newspapers and Magazines, a Media Code of Ethics and a News Policy. A Broadcasting Bill and a Cable Television Bill are being drafted and both are expected to be tabled in the parliament this year.

The media reform package aimed at strengthening press freedom in the Maldives is a key component of the Agenda for Democracy, Human Rights and Reforms announced by the President on 9 June 2004.

The Minister of Information and Arts Mohamed Nasheed said freedom of media and information was an important milestone of the President’s Democratic Reform Initiative and the entire media package was a clear manifestation of the President’s firm commitment to promote transparency, accountability, and strengthen good governance, in order to usher in a full-fledged, modern democracy to the country.

The four draft bills on freedom of media and information were finalized after months of extensive consultations involving major stakeholders and journalists.

In August 2005 the Ministry of Information held a workshop where the first draft of the four statutes were submitted for debate among more than 40 journalists from 16 media establishments. For five days the country’s Press Corp scrutinized the drafts and engaged themselves in active deliberations, giving their views and input in a free and open environment.

The draft bills were then revised according to the recommendations made, and submitted for a final review in a workshop held in late October 2005, where journalists studied and analyzed them for more than a week.

The Information Minister expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the consultative process and said the aim was to increase ownership of stakeholders and journalists in the new media reforms. He further said he was confident the draft bills on freedom of media and information would emerge as ‘effective and comprehensive’ legislations.

More than 34 newspapers and magazines have been registered at the Ministry of Information and Arts since the President announced his Democratic Reform Agenda on 9 June 2004, and 4 daily newspapers and 13 magazines are currently in circulation among a population numbering less than 300,000.

The past year saw the government pursuing a very liberal policy of media freedom. Despite an onslaught of heavy media criticism, which had on several occasions fomented dissent and incited hatred against the government, no journalist has been prosecuted for the past two years.

In his annual Presidential Address at the official opening of the People’s Majlis for this year, the President said, that the media freedom must not be abused through defamation, disinformation, and incitement to hatred and violence.

“We must promote a responsible press and uphold the cultural and traditional high standards of behavior in our society.”

“There is still a mountain of challenges ahead of us. I am optimistic though, that with time the practice of constructive and socially responsible journalism would be fully embedded in our society” said Information Minister Nasheed.

Ends

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