Thank you Mr Chairman,
The Maldives would like to express its appreciation to the Special Rapporteur Mr Frank La Rue for his report on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. My delegation welcomes the report and the recommendations it contains.
As the Maldives is currently undergoing a process of democratic transition and consolidation, we have come to understand first-hand, the importance of access to information. Through protecting the integrity of constitutionally created, independent institutions of horizontal accountability, we have been able to ensure that transparency within the Executive governance structures is present. It is our hope that through supporting both civil society and intergovernmental efforts, such as the governance programme initiated with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme, that we will be able to extend this spirit of transparency to our legislative and judicial branches of Government.
The Constitution of the Maldives guarantees the fundamental freedoms, including that of expression, assembly, a free media, political association and movement. In addition to the separation of powers and independent institutions, the Constitution ensures a decentralized structure that promotes greater transparency through local governance.
In this spirit, the Maldives has acceded to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as its First Optional Protocol.
The liberalization process has been conducive to the creation of more journalists, though few make attempts to convey substantive information to the national public. While they still need time to mature, all media is now completely independent of the executive. Last year, even the official state media has been made independent and placed under the supervision of a committee appointed by Parliament. Furthermore, defamation has been decriminalized and safeguards put in place to protect members of the media.
The Right to Information Bill, modeled on Commonwealth country practices, including Canada and the United Kingdom, is currently pending in Parliament. The Right to Information Bill establishes the principle of a presumption of openness and lists out the grounds on which access may be denied. All exemptions to disclosure information are subject to conditions of harm or public interest, ensuring that access to information is not denied in an arbitrary manner. Even if the information requested is refused, the Bill provides an independent review of refusals of requests through the office of the Information Commissioner to be established after its enactment. Though the bill has not been passed yet, the Government maintains the highest standard of transparency. Information of government work and expenditure is available through both government institutions and independent commissions such as the Civil Service Commission and the Auditor General’s office.
The Maldives believes fundamentally in democratic progression. The Maldives would therefore ask the Special Rapporteur, that while the right to information and its disbursement is fundamental, where would the line be drawn with regards to ensuring media reports are based on truth, rather than fabrications. What we have found, is that while some reporters put in the work to investigate stories, they often lose both airtime and audiences to tabloid-like-journalism based on rumour rather than truth. In our efforts to safeguard a media emerging through a democratic transition, the protections put in place have allowed journalistic integrity to be compromised. How do you balance journalistic integrity the free right to provide information?
In another vein, with regards to the Government responses to requests for information-, the Special Rapporteur in his report makes specific mention of quality of responses to requests for information, and asks that this quality would be monitored periodically. In the international context, with most countries, what form would this monitoring take place?