On March 13, a member of parliament from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Ibrahim Muizzu, introduced a proposed amendment to the General Elections Act on behalf of the government. The proposed amendment would alter Sections 41(a) and 41(b) of the legislation and would require any reporter performing election monitoring work to work for a registered media outlet or broadcasting service.
Any ‘unregistered’ journalist would be unable to legally act as a monitor to polling booths, counting facilities or voting districts before voting. If passed, the amendment would affect coverage of the Maldives’ upcoming elections in September.
The amendment has been criticised by the Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) and Transparency International, who identified the potential of the bill to exclude freelance journalists and foreign correspondents from election monitoring practices in a joint statement. The amendment has also been criticised for failing to consult media workers, civil society organisations or other stakeholders in its drafting.
The IFJ documented Maldivian legislation contrary to press freedom through 2022. In July, the controversial Evidence Act was ratified, requiring journalists to reveal their sources if directed by court order when cases are related to “national security-related matters”, or “acts of terrorism”. The IFJ and the MJA criticised the vague and exploitable language in the act and warned of its potential to undermine press freedom and endanger journalists and their sources. The bill came into effect in January 2023.
The MJA said: "We believe the change in the General Election Law can be perceived as an attempt to undermine efforts for election monitoring by media organisations, especially when important elections like the presidential elections are around the corner. The MJA calls on the Parliament and all relevant institutions to ensure that all elections can be widely observed and that foreign media and freelance journalists can continue to cover elections in the same manner."
The IFJ said: “This proposed amendment to the General Elections Act represents a distinct threat to press freedom, and will unduly affect freelance journalists and foreign correspondents covering the Maldives' upcoming election. The International Federation of Journalists urges Maldivian authorities to consult with journalists and other media stakeholders when drafting legislation, and calls on the government to revise or reject the existing proposal to ensure journalists are not restricted."