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Ethics And Self Regulation; TVM In The Process Of Democratic Change

Ali Khalid/ CEO 2006 - 2008 Television Maldives (TVM)

Introduction TVM has been a state controlled entity for over 3 decades. With the changes in the democratic values the organization felt the need to adapt to the changing times. It realized the government would not initiate the required changes as the election was fast approaching. However, for TVM to be accepted by the audience and gain a competitive edge in the new and flourishing media industry in the country, it was imperative to make significant changes, to cater to the audience expectations and their constant calls for an immediate end to government propaganda in the news. To whet the ever growing appetite for information and make a deeper impact on the audience and their expectations, we felt the need to change every aspect of our broadcast content and the way we communicate and deliver messages.

Changes initiated in programs and news. We introduced ethical values into our programs and advertising. We put in place guidelines for gender, children and special care issues. To do this we worked and got assistance from relevant ministries. Once we had the guideline on paper we conducted an awareness program for producers. All producers were given copies of the 3 guidelines, and programs which failed to adhere to the guideline were not approved for broadcast. In the rare event when something slipped from the process and went on air, we ensured that we make an apology. This way we make the public and the producer aware of the mistake. And this helped the producers not to repeat the mistake again. A vibrant media was an immediate requisite, considering the fast pace of democratic reforms the country was experiencing. As an aspiring Public Service Broadcaster, TVM has a bigger and a more significant role in educating the public about the democratic reform process. With elections ahead, there were messages and civic education programs to run, which could only be done by an experienced broadcaster. There were party elections, public referendum for deciding a system of governance and the first ever multi-party presidential election.

Facing the Election Initially we came up with a set of guidelines to cover the opposition party campaign and their debates. This prepared the audience and the government to the inevitable fact that the State Broadcaster was indeed, gradually changing its course of direction, ready to assume the role of a true Public Service Broadcaster. Our news also set guidelines on campaign coverage. With the little experience gained from covering campaigns, our news and program teams had to ensure that they provide a fair and balanced coverage of the public referendum to decide on the system of governance. The government was supporting the presidential system and the opposition endorsed the parliamentary system. We had the task of giving equal airtime in our programs, and being fair, balanced and impartial in our coverage of news. Guided by transparent rules and regulations and an unwavering commitment to adhere to the highest ethical standards TVM provided complete coverage, which was praised by the Government and the opposition alike. Our journalists

and producers derived a lot of strength from this and they felt a sense of renewed motivation to be fair, balanced and ethical. When we eventually faced the presidential election, there were competitors in the market as well. To avoid speculation and obtain trust we signed an Equal Access Agreement with the political parties on covering campaigns and elections. The agreement was our savior as the government also agreed that a guideline was essential to give fair coverage and equal airtime. Accordingly we did our best to follow the agreement in giving coverage to the political parties. Also our programs facilitated airtime to the political parties, who then were able to explain their political views and promote their manifesto. When the presidential candidates were officially announced TVM allocated equal airtime to the candidates. Advertising slots were also given at special rates. When prioritizing the order of news candidates were given precedence on a rotating basis, i.e. the no 1 position will drop to bottom the next primetime news. Each news bulletin also kept this rotation. A news item was treated as an exception only if it had higher news value. All the while our producers and journalists kept close contact with the political parties, so only few occasion we were not able to cover their activities, and if there was we were able to find a solution through dialogue. All political parties had confidence in the sincerity of our intention to honor the agreement and our determination to maintain ethical standards. When the first round of election failed to provide the clear majority required to win the election, we found that the political parties as well as independent observers had no complains about our coverage. Most importantly we managed to win the confidence of the public.

The second round of campaigning was more intense and aggressive. Yet TVM maintained the same balance in reporting and allocating airtime. The election results were presented in a new style which prompted praise from the audience. However, TVM was not ready to deal with the post election euphoria, which brought about a lot of criticism from our viewers.
The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within Mahathma Gandhi