Saturday, April 11, 2009

Maldives vows to open state media

The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, says his government is to open up its state-controlled media.

President Nasheed is on an official visit to the UK, where he met the Queen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The president told the BBC he was seeking investors for a deregulated media sector that would ensure press freedom and competition.

Mr Nasheed took over in October 2008 from Abdul Gayoom who ruled the nation of nearly 1,200 islands for decades.

Mr Nasheed said: "We need to privatise Radio and TV Maldives and distribution networks. I have come here to see whether investors in the UK are interested."

The government operates Voice of Maldives radio and Television Maldives. The first private radio station opened in 2007 and a handful of private TV stations have been licensed.

The media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called the radio licence charges exorbitant.


Mr Nasheed is making his maiden European trip since becoming the country's first ever democratically elected president.

He accepted an invitation from the Queen for dinner and an overnight stay in Windsor Castle.

Mr Nasheed said he was looking for environmentally friendly investors.

The Maldives president also delivered a lecture at the Royal Commonwealth Society on "Embracing the Future".

He thanked the UK public for helping his fight against President Gayoom's three decades of authoritarian rule.

"The changes that have been brought to the Maldives have been assisted very much by the civil society and people in the United Kingdom. So we wanted to say thank you," he told the BBC.

The country's coffers were "left empty" by the previous government and the new administration is seeking funds to consolidate democracy.

Empowering a "dysfunctional" judiciary, upgrading an education system, resolving issues like overcrowding in the capital, Male, and helping young drug addicts were among his priorities, he said.

The president also thanked India and Sri Lanka for their "excellent support", political and financial, since he took power last year.

Mr Nasheed said he was committed to eradicating Islamic fundamentalism but that the task was made difficult because growing radicalisation in Pakistan was encouraging Islamist groups in the Maldives.

He said he would tackle what he called a serious issue for the Maldives by consolidating democracy and offering better education opportunities.


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