Since its inception in 2010, RaajjeTV has had a very eventful history in the past few years. What began as a small TV station, became the first 24/7 broadcast and one of the most-watched TV channels in the country. This success is a testament to the literal blood, sweat, and tears of every current and former staff member, working together like cogs in a well-oiled machine.
While the media may be just a tool to access information for the average joe, society’s aristocratic elite latches onto the tool’s prospects for political power. Hence, the condition of a country’s media has always been an accurate indicator of its overall development and political situation. For 30 years, not only did Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his family rule over the country uncontested, many industries, including the media was ruled by a monopoly as it upheld the elites’ stronghold over power.
RaajjeTV’s history mirrors the tumultuous years of political turmoil the country has been engrossed in since the start of the century and is perhaps a case study of the country’s struggle in the fight for the freedom of speech that was being gatekept for the aristocracy.
Though democracy finally brought about the much-needed change to the country, change can be volatile and prone to chaos. In 2011, a year after the founding of RaajjeTV, the country saw a series of protests that eventually escalated to a coup. Afterwards, RaajjeTV began facing an increasing number of threats, discrimination and blatant sabotage as the tv station was associated with the then-opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
Both the police and the President’s Office refused to work with RaajjeTV in July 2012, with the President’s Office’s banning the station from press conferences and the police refusing to provide protection to the station’s staff.
In the following month of August, cables essential to the station’s control room were destroyed, resulting in the station’s broadcast getting cut off.
2013; attack after attack!
This was only the tip of the iceberg in the persecution against the TV station and its staff. The very next year, in February 2013, RaajjeTV's then journalist, Ibrahim "Asward" Waheed was left with near-fatal head wounds after a group of men on motorbikes attacked him with iron rods.
Later that year, on 7 October 2013, things would get much worse. Late that night, RaajjeTV’s main studio building was torched at 4am. The five masked arsonists entered BKT Building, where the station’s main studio was located at the time, and dragged the building’s security guard up to the second floor before stabbing him repeatedly. The CCTV footage further showed the men tearing down the iron gate and wooden door followed by the group dousing the station’s control room in petrol and setting it ablaze. Audit reports on the arson show RaajjeTV incurred losses amounting to a total of MVR 11.65 million.
Nonetheless, the pen is mightier than the sword, and in this case, the pen was mightier than the ravaging fire. The station was back on its feet within hours with its journalists reporting via its website by 2 pm the very same day.
2016-2018; defamation law introduced, harassment continues
Two years later, on August 11th, 2016, the administration of former president Abdulla Yameen ratified the Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act. While this bill was condemned as “draconian” by both domestic and international parties, it was seen mainly as a tool against RaajjeTV.
Despite the ruling party at the time, PPM, defending the bill by claiming that the law is based on the Islamic tenet of protecting one’s good name, the true intentions of the law to control the media and in turn, the public, was transparent.
Within almost three years, RaajjeTV was fined a total of MVR 3.7 million under this law but the tv station was able to overcome this hurdle largely due to the support of its audience. Whenever the station set up a donation box to pay for the fine, the station's audience showered RaajjeTV with support. Many made financial contributions, while some supporters sent in food regularly to the station. RaajjeTV is reported to have an audience of at least 95,000 people, reaching viewers in India and Sri Lanka as well.
Following Yameen’s defeat in the 2018 elections, MBC’s president admitted that the commission was not fair in their investigations into defamation complaints, especially in the case of certain tv stations.
Yameen and his party’s thirst for power did not stop at merely influencing an independent institution, ratifying unconstitutional laws or puppeteering the police.
Through Yameen’s tenure, several RaajjeTV journalists were arrested while fulfilling their duties and subsequently charged and tried. Some were acquitted, while others were found guilty and fined; they all had to spend days in remand jail.
A former journalist at the station, Hussain Hassan had sustained injuries during an arrest also while covering a rally in February 2018; video footage showed him having difficulty breathing, as he was carried into a vehicle from the police headquarters shortly after his arrest.
During the period, RaajjeTV received phone calls threatening to murder any of the station's staff.
Let's also not forget Al Jazeera's award-winning documentary 'Stealing Paradise', released in 2016, which showed Yameen's government officials had worked to hinder the station's work, including by intimidating sponsors.
Justice delayed is justice denied
The international community had voiced their concerns over the various restrictions imposed on the media by the Yameen administration; as such Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists, and The International Federation of Journalists are some of the bodies that condemned the harassment faced by RaajjeTV and its journalists.
Today, while RaajjeTV celebrates its nine-year anniversary, neither the station nor its staff has received any sort of justice. Six years have passed since the station was torched but the perpetrators are still at large; it has no hope of seeing even a bit of the MVR 3.7 million it was fined unjustly. Yet the broadcast is still going, the pens (or fingers) haven't stopped moving in fear of the sword and RaajjeTV is still standing strong in the face of adversity.