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Maldives 28 October 2008

Generally good climate for presidential election marred by public TV’s bias in favour of incumbent

No constraints were placed on either the local or international media in the course of their coverage of the Maldivian president elections, but state-owned TV broadcaster MTV failed to observe the required balance in its coverage of the two candidates’ activities between the first and second round, which is taking place today, Reporters Without Borders said.

The elections, in which President Abdul Gayoom of the ruling Maldivian People’s Party (DRP) is pitted against Mohamed “Anni” Nashed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), are widely regarded as historic as the government has for the first time allowed opposition parties to take part.

While MTV undeniably made consistent efforts to allow opposition representatives, including MDP leaders, to speak on the air, the government still got the lion’s share of air time, the press freedom organisation said.

“We hail the government’s efforts to guarantee a satisfactory level of freedom and safety for both Maldivian and foreign journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We nonetheless regret that it did not go the whole way by ensuring the ruling party and the opposition got the same amount of time on the public TV station.”

The organisation added: “We call on the winner of this historic election to work during the coming years to ensure that press freedom takes a lasting hold in the Maldives.”

During yesterday’s 2 p.m. news programme on MTV, the opposition was given 5 minutes 35 seconds of air time, while the ruling party got nine minutes and the government got another five minutes. Similarly, during MTV’s news programmes on 24 October, the opposition candidate got 6 minutes and 40 seconds while the ruling part got 14 minutes 37 seconds and the government got 9 minutes 52 seconds.

The day before, the bias in favour of the president and the ruling party was even greater. The DRP got 13 minutes 14 seconds of air time and the government got 5 minutes 25 seconds, while opposition candidate Nashed’s supporters only got 9 minutes 53 seconds. On 21 October, the DRP was accorded twice as much air time as the MDP.

Reporters Without Borders measured MTV’s allocation of air time systematically during the 10 days prior to today’s polling.

The organisation did learn of a few sporadic incidents during the election. A journalist employed by the pro-opposition newspaper Haama Daily was, for example, asked to leave a news conference held by the government.

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