The government on Sunday submitted a bill to the parliament, seeking to appoint a single body to regulate all media outlets in the country.
The new bill calls for considerable changes to be brought to the governance of the Maldivian medias – most notably, it will result in dissolving the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) and the Maldives Media Council (MMC) and bringing all media regulatory bodies under a single umbrella, the “Maldives Media Commission.”
Whilst the debate on the new “Maldives Media Commission” bill, which was submitted by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) member for the Ungoofaaru constituency MP Jaufar Dawood, has been tabled in the parliament agenda for Tuesday, some details of what will be included in the bill has already been disclosed.
Currently, MBC regulates all broadcasting stations, while MMC is the parent body of all print and online medias. Both institutions are operated under two separate laws. However, when the new bill is enacted, these institutions and their mandate will become obsolete.
The broadcasting regulator presently consists of seven members appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. It oversees the television stations and radio stations, and ensures that responsible practice of free speech is exercised in the media.
The media council, on the other hand, is an independent institution that consists of 15 elected members. All the registered media outlets in Maldives vote on the appointment of council members, and eight members who represent various medias are elected as council members whilst the remaining seven are elected from the public.
The bill that was submitted to the parliament early in the week proposes seven members to be appointed to the new media regulator, and the nominations are to be made by President Abdulla Yameen and will be subjected to parliamentary approval. The president will also have the authority to appoint the president and vice president of the new Maldives Media Commission.
The bill also calls for the member nominations to be submitted to the parliament within 20-days of the bill coming into force, and the parliament is to approve the nominations within 25-days of submission. The commission members will be appointed for a five-year term after parliament approval, and cannot serve more than two terms.
The new bill goes on to specify that individuals who are already serving at an elected post, individuals registered at a political party in the Maldives, and senior editors and proprietors of news outlets cannot be nominated as members of the new media regulatory body.
Meanwhile, the senior staff of MBC and MMC will be transferred to the new commission and they will oversee its work during an interim period, until the appointment of new members, the bill states.
Maldives Media Commission’s mandate will include overseeing the content that is published on Maldivian medias to ensure that it is on par with the Maldivian law. Once the bill comes to force, it will also oversee the registration of media companies. This was previously under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the medias that are already registered at the home ministry, will be transferred under the jurisdiction of the new regulator.
According to the new bill, if the commission decides to investigate a media outlet, it is required to comply with the commission and hand over any material it asks for within seven-days. The media outlet will be allowed to make a case for itself, but the senior management of the outlet will have to heed the commission’s decision.
The bill also allows the commission to call on the police in order to stop the broadcast of certain content and also revoke the license of media outlets that defy the law. However, if a license is revoked from a media outlet, it will have the opportunity to appeal the decision at the court.
The government MPs had contradictorily claimed that the bill was put forth to promote the freedom of speech and freedom of media. They had also stated that the bill will set guidelines for journalists and media personnel so that they can be more professional in their work.