Minivan Radio, the independent station that has been broadcasting on shortwave to the Maldives for several years, has ended its shortwave transmissions. The reason is that the Maldivian government has revealed the draft contract it will offer to private companies who wish to broadcast on FM radio. The contract would regulate private broadcasting in the continued absence of a Broadcasting Bill. The Ministry of Information hope a contract can be agreed with companies in time to meet the government’s target of private broadcasting by World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
The media community has been critical of the draft bill for being too vague and not guaranteeing freedoms. Fathimath Shaheeda of Minivan Radio confirmed that substantial concerns remained with the bill, and, by extension, the contract on offer. The Information Ministry is committed to negotiating a contract that is agreeable to broadcasters, but accepts that this might take time. Shaheeda is concerned that the tight government deadline of May 3 may force broadcasters into contracts in which all their concerns have not been resolved.
The government has announced that there will be only 5 FM frequencies available for private broadcasters. This further increases the pressure on broadcasters to accept the government contracts, or risk losing out on a licence to competitors. Some broadcasters have started preparations for FM broadcasting. On Sunday 25 March, Minivan Radio stopped broadcasting on shortwave, in anticipation of being granted an FM licence promptly.
Until Minivan Radio receives an FM licence, its programmes are now only available via its website. This restricts the access of listeners in remote islands where internet connections are rare. To make matters worse the Ministry of Information has so far failed to provide information on how to apply for an FM licence and one of the five frequencies. There are also legal problems with the contract system. Even if contracts can be negotiated that are acceptable to government and broadcasters, they will not be binding in the long term.
It remains to be seen whether Minivan Radio will be successful in obtaining an FM licence, and under what conditions.