Concerns over restricting journos' access to polling centres
The media is one of the key stakeholders in ensuring that the election process is being conducted in a fair manner.
Mariyam Umna Ismail
Civil society organisations on Wednesday expressed concern that a proposed amendment to the General Election Act, which the government submitted with just six months to go for this year's presidential elections, was aimed at curtailing the scope of journalists involved in covering elections.
Transparency Maldives and Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) issued a statement expressing concern over the amendment to the Elections Act, which was introduced in parliament this week.
Section 41(a) of the law:
Existing provision – in order to monitor the voting process as reporters on the day of voting, only reporters permitted by the Elections Commission under this Act can be deployed at polling booths and counting places
Proposed amendment – To monitor the voting process on the day of polling, only registered journalists allowed under the Act can be active in polling areas and counting places.
Section 41(b) of the law
Existing provision – The Elections Commission should issue permission to one representative from news agencies, registered or not, to act as monitors in an island or area before the day of polling
Proposed amendment: The Elections Commission shall permit registered journalists to enter each area where voting and counting of votes are done without discrimination, for requesting permission 10 days prior to the voting day, to act as monitors in an island or area , as per the number allowed in the regulation
"The organisation sees this change in the general law on elections as an attempt to undermine the chances of conducting the elections more openly at a time when major and important elections like the presidential election are in the offing," the joint statement said.
Noting that the media is one of the key stakeholders in ensuring that the election process is being conducted in a fair manner, the statement said that any step taken to curtail the media's scope to monitor the election will increase the space to question its integrity and credibility and reduce the confidence of the people.
If these amendments are passed:
Foreign media outlets and journalists interested in covering this year's elections and subsequent elections will be deprived of the opportunity
Freelance journalists operating in the country will also miss out on the opportunity
Noting this, the organisations called for:
The Elections Commission, the government and parliament should make amendments to election laws in consultation with civil society, media and other stakeholders working to ensure the authenticity of elections
To ensure that media participation and journalists and reporters are able to monitor general elections as transparently as possible, keep in mind the way the local media operates and the challenges in the sector
Ensure that the amendments meet the best internationally accepted norms and standards
Allow foreign media and freelance journalists to cover the elections in the same manner as before