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UNESCO helps draft democratic legislation in the Maldives

UNESCO, in collaboration with ARTICLE 19, is providing technical assistance to the Maldivian People’s Majlis (Parliament) to draft legislation to create an enabling environment for freedom of expression. Two draft laws – on broadcasting and freedom of expression – were provided to the Social Affairs Committee of the outgoing Parliament in April 2009. The draft bills have been forwarded to the new Majlis, elected on 8 May, with the recommendation of the outgoing Social Affairs Committee.

A draft Broadcasting Law had already been considered by the Parliament earlier this year but it failed to conform in important ways to international standards, in particular by leaving key regulatory functions, including licensing, in the hands of the State.

With the support of UNESCO, Toby Mendel, ARTICLE 19’s Senior Legal Counsel, travelled to the Maldives to consult with the Parliament and other stakeholders in the country on key legislative needs, as well as on specific standards. The reform of broadcast regulation was identified as a key need for the Maldives by Mr Mendel, who has worked extensively on media law and freedom of expression issues in Asia, Africa, Europe and Middle East. Different parliamentary committees had also been working on several pieces of legislation – a Freedom of Press Bill, a Freedom of Publication Bill and a Freedom of Expression Bill – which were all closely related. It was agreed that these should be combined into one law, on freedom of expression, which could cover all of the relevant issues.

The technical assistance also involved an Assessment of media development in the Maldives, based on UNESCO’s Media development indicators: a framework for assessing media development. The Assessment identifies a number of important legislative reform needs in the country. A Defamation Bill is being considered and a proper legal framework for the public broadcaster, the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation, is needed. A right to information law was rejected by the last Majlis but this remains an important need in the country. UNESCO has already expressed readiness to work with the Maldivian authorities on these issues.