In its comprehensive review of the media landscape during the Maldives’ 2023 presidential elections, the European Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has emphasised the critical need for journalist training and fact-checking initiatives as priority recommendations.

Training and Development for Journalists and Editors
The EU EOM report underscores the importance of equipping journalists and editors with the necessary skills and knowledge for balanced, ethical, and responsible journalism. This training is particularly vital during elections to ensure merit-based coverage of the electoral campaign. The current media landscape is plagued by partisanship in ownership, limited journalistic capacity, and an absence of robust investigative journalism and fact-checking mechanisms.

Supporting Civil Society Fact-Checking Initiatives
Another priority recommendation of the EU EOM is to bolster civil society fact-checking initiatives in the Maldives. These initiatives are crucial for verifying information, combating disinformation, and ensuring that corrections are made when false information is disseminated. This recommendation is particularly pertinent given the current media environment’s susceptibility to political bias and the spread of unverified information.

Media Environment and Challenges
The Maldivian media, concentrated mainly in the capital, is marked by political polarisation and a shift towards digital platforms, according to the report. Despite a significant number of registered broadcast and online media, financial dependence on state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has led to self-censorship, particularly in criticism and scrutiny of government activities. The lack of regulated advertising and market-based competition further exacerbates the media’s ability to operate independently.

Legal Framework and Regulatory Challenges
The legal framework governing Maldivian media includes various acts and regulations. However, vague wording in the Constitution and the Evidence Act of 2022 contributes to a climate of self-censorship, particularly concerning matters of “terrorism” and “national security,” the report highlighted. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) and the Maldives Media Council (MMC) face challenges in effectively overseeing the media due to financial constraints and resource shortages.

Media Monitoring Findings
The EU EOM’s media monitoring revealed a clear imbalance and political bias in media coverage. Government and presidential activities received significant coverage, with the public broadcaster PSM News often blurring the lines between election campaigning and presidential duties. This contrasted starkly with the opposition-aligned Channel 13 TV, which focused on the PPMPNC coalition and Dr Mohamed Muizzu.

A Call for Media Reform
The EU EOM’s report and recommendations highlight the urgent need for reforms in the Maldivian media landscape. Training journalists and editors, along with supporting fact-checking initiatives, are critical steps towards ensuring a balanced, independent, and ethically responsible media, pivotal for the health of Maldives’ democratic processes in future elections.