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Government urged to grant licence to independent television channel

(IFJ/IFEX) - July 4 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is informed by affiliates and partners that the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) is delaying the grant of a broadcast licence to the independent television channel Raajje TV.

Sources inform the IFJ that Raajje TV had applied for satellite uplink permission in mid-June and been assured that its request would be processed in accordance with established rules. Later, the CAM pleaded that it would only be able to grant a temporary licence for uplinking, for possibly a period of six months. On July 1 though, the CAM informed the Raajje TV management that their application for a satellite uplink would not be granted, ostensibly because broadcast policies were "under review".

The Maldives Journalists' Association (MJA), an IFJ affiliate has expressed its concern over the delay, citing it as a breach of the guidelines for permitting plural sources of news and opinions for the people of the Indian Ocean republic.

"As this statement is issued, the MJA informs us that Raajje TV has been granted temporary uplink permission for six months", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"We welcome this development, even if it is provisional, and call for a clear statement on the norms that will govern the use of the broadcast spectrum, in a manner that will provide ample room for multiple voices and opinions".

Of the four TV broadcasters operating in the Maldives, one is controlled by the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), an autonomous body established under law. Though mandated to function independently, the MNBC is believed by opposition parties and independent journalists, to be highly biased towards the government that came to power on February 7, after a police revolt toppled the elected president.

Of the private channels, two are owned by businessmen with known links to the current regime, according to sources in the Maldives.

Raajje TV which is known to provide alternative news and opinions, is currently confined to the narrow audience it can reach through cable transmission in the capital city of Male. Satellite uplinking is key to reaching a larger audience in the far flung archipelago.

"We urge the authorities in the Maldives to make the grant of uplinking permissions the norm, subject only to a list, preferably small and clearly defined, of ineligible entities", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"Rather than control information flows, the priority should be to ensure that multiple sources of news are available to the people of the republic in this time of political transition".

"A review of broadcast policy cannot be the basis for denial of such permission, since such a review in today's world can only move towards allowing greater diversity and competition on the air-waves and not towards restricting access".

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