Maldives government fines TV channel for criticising government

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The Maldives government has fined a private television channel Raajje TV 2 million rufiyaa for airing content that was allegedly defamatory of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) accused Rajje TV of airing content that was allegedly defamatory of the president and "a threat to national security". It is to be noted that Rajje TV is aligned to the interest of the opposition party in the Maldives.

As Maldives inches closer to polls, content that criticises the incumbent government is being met with steep fines, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly observed.

Hussain Fiyaz, operations chief of Rajje TV, said, "The fines are certainly a political decision made by a commission that is fully under the control of the government."

This is the fourth time that the private channel has been fined under similar charges. This has cost the station nearly four million rufiyaa, over $250,000. On August 8, MBC levied a fine of two million rufiyaa ($130,000) on Raajje TV, for comments made by an opposition lawmaker during live coverage of a demonstration in March.

The company launched a public appeal to help pay the initial penalties and even went door-to-door requesting for donations. Also, the Maldives joint opposition opened a fund box at their campaign site in order to assist the boardcaster pay off the hefty fine.

The fines are imposed under Maldives' Anti-Defamation Act of 2016, according to which the media outlets are coerced to pay their fines within 30 days, regardless of whether there has been time to hear any appeal.

Fiyaz feels that though the fines have been paid off, more may be imposed on them in further attempts to obstruct the station's coverage before election day. "With the elections just around the corner, people don't want to let the government deter us from doing our work," Fiyaz said.

(With inputs from ANI)