The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has announced its intention to introduce new regulations aimed at combating the spread of misinformation by unregistered news websites. 

This move comes in the wake of numerous complaints, including concerns raised by the President’s Office and various ministries regarding the activities of three specific unregistered websites: Kurusee, Dhiyavaru, and Dhon Amaa. These sites have been accused of disseminating false information, leading to a distorted perception of truth among their audience.

In response to these allegations, the MMC has undertaken investigations into the complaints, confirming the spread of misinformation by the mentioned websites. As a result, the council is in the process of drafting a policy to outline methods for regulating both registered and unregistered media outlets operating within the country. This policy aims to ensure that all media outlets adhere to standards that prevent the dissemination of unverified reports or misinformation.

The MMC’s mandate, as per Article 36 of the Media Council’s Regulations, includes oversight over all information-sharing outlets, categorising both registered and unregistered websites that publish information, opinions, and news as ‘media’. This broad definition underscores the council’s mandate to safeguard the right to freedom of expression while ensuring that such freedoms do not lead to the spread of falsehoods that could harm societal trust in media sources.

The upcoming policy and regulatory measures will be developed in collaboration with media outlets, relevant associations, government agencies, institutions, and the public. The MMC’s approach aims to balance the wide provision of the right to freedom of expression with the necessity to check facts and clarify information from relevant authorities before spreading news, especially on matters of significant public interest.

The recent initiatives by the Maldives Media Council (MMC) to regulate misinformation by unregistered news websites gain additional context when considering the backdrop of earlier government actions that have sparked controversy and concern about freedom of expression and media rights in the Maldives. 

Two months ago, the government faced severe criticism for blocking access to two websites known for publishing content critical of the government. This move raised alarms among the public, freedom of expression advocates, and opposition members, marking a significant moment of tension between governmental control and digital freedoms.

This episode of censorship occurred after and became inaccessible on local networks, representing a notable escalation in the government’s efforts to control digital content. These actions contradicted the Maldivian Constitution’s explicit guarantees of freedom of expression, media freedom, and the freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, all within the Islamic tenets framework.

Despite the government asserting its unwavering commitment to press freedom and claiming that only sites operating outside Maldivian laws and regulations were targeted, reports from registered media outlets like FurathamaNews about being shut down after criticising the government painted a different picture. 

This led to condemnation from various media and transparency organisations, highlighting a conflict between government actions and constitutional rights. While the sites were later accessible, the new regulation by the MMC poses a significant threat to the constitutional freedoms, if abused in formulation.