EU Observation Mission reports polarisation and false narratives in media coverage.

A preliminary statement from the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has highlighted considerable manipulation of information across media platforms during the Maldives presidential election. The EU EOM report revealed a significant rise in divisive discourse on social media platforms such as Meta and X/Twitter, which served as pivotal platforms disseminating both genuine and misleading information.

Public Service Media (PSM) allocated more airtime to the incumbent president, making up 64% of its news coverage, compared to 36% for opposition candidate Dr Mohamed Muizzu. Although PSM fulfilled its legal obligation to provide equal free airtime to both candidates, the coverage was not equitably balanced.

In a similar vein, private TV channels exhibited political bias according to their alignment with various political parties. Rajjee TV, for example, devoted about 84% of its total news coverage to the President, with Muizzu receiving just 16%, often portrayed in a negative light. Conversely, Channel 13 overwhelmingly covered Muizzu’s campaign activities while casting President Solih in a negative tone. Such evident partisan reporting by private broadcasters further complicates the already muddled media landscape.

The digital space was awash with dubious polls, accusations of ID card falsification in the context of voter re-registration, and misleading narratives about religion. Some social media influencers disseminated false content and personal attacks against both candidates. One online media outlet, Dhiyares, appeared to orchestrate a coordinated disinformation campaign targeting the incumbent.

Between 10 and 29 September, the EU EOM team analysed over 3,731 election-related posts across Meta and X/Twitter. Data from the Meta Ad Library showed a discrepancy in campaign spending, with PPM/PNC and their affiliated pages spending more than $500 on Meta advertising, whereas the MDP and their affiliated pages spent less than $150.

The manipulation of information in the media, including social media, has not only tarnished the credibility of the electoral process but has also further polarised an already divided electorate.

The EU EOM continues its stay in the Maldives to observe the remaining critical stages of the election, including the final declaration of results and adjudication of possible petitions.