The controversial defamation bill would pose a serious threat to live broadcasts, live streaming and even public opinion shared on social networking sites.
The government is rushing to pass a revised version of the ‘Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act’ which has sparked public outcry with media and opposition describing the bill as the end of free media and speech in the Maldives.
According to the new draft bill, the media must report objectively on speeches and addresses with comments from all relevant parties. Failure to contact an individual to obtain a comment to which the news refers to is indefensible in court.
The particular clause would prove a major challenge for television and radio stations during live broadcasts. For example, if a political gathering is broadcast live, the media outlet could be made accountable for any individual comments or speeches given during the rally.
In addition to broadcast media, the clause could make life difficult for bringing live updates on online newspapers and social media.
The general public could also face heavy penalties for simply airing a personal opinion on any social networking site as social media has been included with media outlets, websites and blogs in the bill.
This means that posting a comment on Facebook or Twitter could be slapped with a hefty fine or even jail term.
The public is in even greater danger from the bill than media outlets. As media outlets found in violation of the bill would first face a civil lawsuit while cases against private individuals would be directly filed with the police.
Police then must investigate the case and has the authority to seek criminal charges.
The new bill has completely ignored every concern raised by journalists has made its way to the parliament and the government controlled parliament is set to fast track it into law.
The original bill, prescribed hefty fines of between MVR50, 000 (US$3,200) and MVR5 million (US$324,000) as penalties for violations, with offenders who fail to pay the court-imposed fine will face a one-year jail term.
The new draft bill has only made ‘cosmetic changes’ reducing the maximum fine from the original MVR5 million to MVR2 million. Failure to pay the fine would lead to a jail term between three to six months.
Government lawmakers have continued to defend the bill insisting that the government controlled parliament will pass it into law without any amendments.