Maldives’ Anti Defamation Law: Instilling fear

I travelled to the Maldives in August 2016 to conduct a training to journalists on media rights monitoring and advocacy. During my three-day stay in Male, I met with a few friends (bloggers, journalists and others). This blog is based on talks with friends.

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The new Anti-defamation Act in the Maldives serves to silence instilling fear in the media community which can face huge fines and imprisonment if found guilty of defamation.

“… but after the law, I am not sure,” a blogger from the Maldives told me answering my questions about how long he would continue writing critically on the government. The law he was referring to was the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, passed by the Maldivian parliament on August 9, 2016, despite widespread criticism.

Every conversation with anyone who writes opinions on public issues – journalists or bloggers or social media users – the law was mentioned as a sword hanging over their heads. The new law is a direct threat to the freedom of opinion and expression for Maldivians, who now fear that they could be slapped with huge fines huge and jailed for their words published in the media or even on social media.

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Why We Should Express Our Opinions Publicly

“Facebook & Twitter is full of trash! People are writing all sorts of non-sense thing on Social Media.”

I hear that quite often. I am asked about it quite often. There were times – such as after the April 25’s Earthquake – when I felt irritated, frustrated and even angered by what were written on Facebook and Twitter. Everyday, I see Facebook and Twitter; and I find things that people should not post there.

This morning I saw one of my students (and a journalist) posting news with a picture of a woman who was hanged herself. The other day, someone wrote a racial comment regarding a political group. Of course, there are things that shouldn’t have been posted on Social Media.

And, there are quite a lot of things that I come across everyday that I disagree – wholly or partly. Reading such posts gives be a kind of bad feelings – sometime a light one and sometime a hard one.

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Responsible Social Media

(This write-up is published in April 2013 issue of Samhita – a quarterly publication of Press Council Nepal.)

Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai, during his speech to mark the Press Council of Nepal’s anniversary in September 2012, talked critically about social media and its content. He said:

“Social media have become very useful and effective for quick dissemination of news, quick feedback & quick response, but we are seeing indications that the content & language uploaded on social media are becoming challenge to society, social harmony, national unity, national integrity & individual’s privacy.”

The Prime Minister’s comments were not unfounded given that most of the politicians are criticized heavily on social media. He also proposed that the scope of the Press Council should be expanded to the Internet and that the quasi-governmental body should actively facilitate print, electronic and social media to ensure decency in content & language.

Earlier in February 2012, PM Bhattarai’s comments on social media during the program to launch ‘Beginning of Digital Signature’ were harsher and naturally it met with a lot of criticism.

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(Social) Media Predictions 2013

It’s not easy to predict but in the coziness of warm bed, I decided to predict how Nepali media, especially in connection with social media, is going to change in upcoming year. Feel free to add your own predictions in comments!

I’m prediction that 2013 will see introduction of mobile news applications (for iPhone/iPad/Android) by mainstream media, more social media integration by mainstream media and more media outlets!

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