In 2018, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assumed office in the Maldives, with his party securing a supermajority in the parliament. This granted Solih unprecedented power, including the ability to amend the constitution. While his government has faced accusations of corruption, mismanagement, and underhand deals with India, the opposition remains weak. The opposition leader is in jail, and protests are frequently suppressed by police. This political landscape has given rise to a concerning decline in media freedom in the Maldives.
The majority of media outlets in the Maldives are under the influence of government funding. Although they can technically report on any topic, their dependence on government funding limits their ability to criticize the administration. The COVID-19 pandemic further intensified this dependence, as businesses cut advertising budgets, leading media outlets to rely more on state-owned enterprises and the President's office for financial support.
Police harassment of journalists during protests is not uncommon, and at least two journalists have faced baseless charges. Some journalists are regularly spied on by police in an attempt to uncover their sources. Recently, a new law was enacted, forcing journalists to reveal their sources or face jail time.
State-owned enterprises, such as the State Electric Company (STELCO), Maldives Water and Sewerage Company, and Maldives Transport and Construction Company, provide substantial funding to media outlets. For example, STELCO spends MVR 600,000 on 30 different media outlets every month. However, these enterprises do not aim to promote their services through advertising, but rather to control media coverage.
The President's office also directly funds media outlets, paying them to cover the President's speeches and policies in a positive light. This practice was reported to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for violating the Financial Regulations Act, but the ACC found no corruption.
Private companies are often forced to finance media outlets that are aligned with the government. Ruling party-affiliated businesses fund these outlets to secure government projects. As a result, most media outlets in the Maldives are under some form of government control. Dhiyares News and The Maldives Journal are two exceptions, as they do not accept government funding.
International organizations such as Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty, and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have criticized the deterioration of media freedom in the Maldives. The country has dropped 15 spots in the latest press freedom index. This decline has significant implications for democracy and human rights.
The media's responsibility to hold the government accountable is undermined by its reliance on government funding. Important issues are often ignored, and media coverage tends to align with the government's narrative. Human rights abuses in jails also go unreported, leaving the public uninformed about the true state of their country.
The erosion of media freedom in the Maldives is a pressing concern that demands attention. To protect democracy and human rights, it is essential to restore media independence and ensure that journalists can report on important issues without fear of retribution or financial consequences.