Maldives state media seemingly became the first victim of possible libel after it was forced to remove a report heavily critical of ruling party leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The entire report aired on state run Television Maldives' evening news at 8pm was based on a Tweet by Gayoom.
Gayoom who has been locked in a bitter power struggle with his half brother and incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom called for courage to succeed in political endeavours.
"Integrity and courage are crucial for success in all political endeavours. If we allow fear to restrict our actions we will never deliver," the elder Gayoom's Tweet read.
Public Service Media (PSM) which runs TVM had interpreted the Tweet as Gayoom publicly supporting former president Mohamed Nasheed.
According to the report which was also published on the PSM website, accused the Gayoom who ruled the country for three decades before losing the 2008 president elections to Nasheed after linking the Tweet to the election "anti-Islamic" slogan "Fun without fear" used by Nasheed in the 2013 election campaign.
The report also said Gayoom now 80, was supporting his arch nemesis Nasheed.
Gayoom is also riding on the back of his lawmaker son, Faaris Maumoon to re-gain popularity within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the report alleged.
The report sparked intense public criticism especially on social media.
Most people labelled the report as libel which falls under the defamation law which was signed into law by president Yameen earlier Thursday.
PSM quickly removed the report after the public accused the state media of defaming the ex-president Gayoom.
Mihaaru has been unable to obtain a comment from PSM over the report.
The law, which the government pushed through its control in the parliament despite widespread international criticism, criminalises speech deemed to be defamatory, to comment against “any tenet of Islam”, to “threaten national security” or to “contradict general social norms”. Those committing an offence under the bill can face fines and failure to pay the fine will result in jail sentence of three to six months.
PSM was one of the few media organisation that backed the bill when it was being vetted by a government controlled parliamentary committee.
The bill now compels journalists to reveal their sources to prove the veracity of their published articles, news reports or comments and allows for media licenses to be cancelled in addition to the criminal liability faced by individual journalists.
The dangerous new provisions greatly hinder the functioning of an independent media devoid of intimidation and is less about providing redress for victims of defamation.
Those found guilty of breaking the new law will be fined between 50,000 Maldivian rufiya ($3,200) and 2 million rufiya ($130,000) or face a jail term of between three and six months.
Gayoom had also urged his party lawmakers to vote against the bill.
The rift between the two brothers widened over the elder Gayoom’s move to block government proposed amendment to the Tourism Act.
Gayoom had moved quickly to assume full control of the party amid a fallout from his failed attempt to get his party lawmakers to vote down the amendment which sought to bypass the bidding process in island lease for tourism.
Gayoom soon after announced a reform program in a desperate bid to wrestle back control of his party had labelled the amendment as a clear violation of the party’s charter.
The party’s disciplinary committee had ignored a ban on all party sit-downs imposed by Gayoom to vote out his lawmaker son Faaris Maumoon and another council member Aminath Nadhira from the party.
Nadhira served as the executive coordinator at the gender ministry before being dismissed after speaking publicly in support of Gayoom.
But Gayoom has refused to ax his son and Nadhira from the party insisting that the disciplinary committee had been held in violation of the party’s charter.
In an unprecedented turn of events, a faction loyal to Yameen had walked out of a PPM council meeting last month in protest against the presence of Faaris and Nadhira in the council.
The majority of the council loyal to Yameen insisted that members voted out of the party by the disciplinary committee had no place in the council.
Gayoom had called in the emergency council meeting after a long hiatus in a bid to resolve the rift with his half brother Yameen and push his reform program.
Some member loyal to the elder Gayoom believe that president Yameen had ordered the walkout.
PPM lawmakers loyal to president Yameen have meanwhile have decided to amend the law putting an age cap of 65 years for political party leaders in a bid to oust Gayoom.
The amendment would effectively put an end to Gayoom’s rein as the PPM leader.
Gayoom had also recently rejected a petition by the party council to gift the party’s presidential ticket to president Yameen for his re-election in 2018 without a primary.