Thursday, May 31, 2007

Whats Next For Minivan Radio?

By Ajay Makan
May 27, 2007

Last week pioneering opposition radio station Minivan Radio failed to secure a frequency to broadcast in the Maldives, leading local media, including ourselves, to question its viability. Reflecting on the failed frequency bid, the radio's editor Shaheeda Fathimath tells MN there are no plans to close the station. She robustly defends the station's independence, distancing it from both Minivan Daily and Minivan News, and controversially calls for the other organisations to change their names. And she admits Minivan Radio would sign the Information Ministry's Agreement to secure broadcasting in the Maldives.

Future's Bright
"Minivan Radio's future is very, very bright. We will not stop," Shaheeda says emphatically. "There are many options to continue," she argues, pointing out the one hour daily broadcasts are still available to download from the internet. Until now Minivan Radio has been the only alternative to government broadcaster Voice of Maldives. But after last week's distribution of FM frequencies, a number of competitors will be broadcasting on FM twenty-four hours a day.
"Even if they have an alternative people will go for Minivan Radio," Shaheeda says. "The people have accepted Minivan Radio. It is the people's radio. They trust it." Shaheeda lists Short Wave broadcasts and selling content to other stations as possible revenue raising options. But it is clear she still sees FM broadcasting as the way forward. "TAM have said they have more reserved frequencies. We can always ask them again."

To begin broadcasting, companies must sign an agreement with the Information Ministry, which will regulate radio. Shaheeda argues the agreement is incompatible with independence. "I don't believe in the Agreement. I don't believe in the Content Committee [the body established by the Agreement to regulate content]. I don't believe in the Minister selecting eight members for the Content Committee. If that's the case its not fair. We cannot have an independent media unless we have it on [the government's] terms, and this is not democracy," she says. "If someone abides by this Agreement, they cannot be independent."

No Choice
Last week Shaheeda criticised the distribution of frequencies by blind auction. "I have already proved I can run a radio. I have been doing this for three years," she said. "But these frequencies are for the rich. They don't care as long as they can get money out of this. It is a commercial venture." But beyond the rhetoric, Shaheeda accepts the commercialisation of radio and agrees, "in some ways it is a positive development." "I'm not criticising commercial broadcasters. I don't have anything against them. I am for them and I am with them. If I had money to compete with them, I would." The problem for Shaheeda is not that frequencies were sold commercially, but that broadcasters will have to sign the Information Ministry Agreement.
But she says broadcasters have no choice, and Minivan Radio too would sign the agreement if they had won a frequency. "I would sign an agreement. I have no choice. It means I will be more like the state media. I will have to make compromises." "This is the hard part," she laments. "There are a lot of people who call me and tell me not to sign an agreement, but it is the only way. And if I sign it, that means I have to abide by it."

Minivan Radio has often been accused of being anti-government, a charge which Shaheeda emphatically denies. "We give the people the news. We try to get the whole angle on it. This includes the government. We try. Everytime we try. But they don't cooperate and they don't give us information." Although Shaheeda will not reveal the names of Minivan Radio's funders as "they would get hurt," she says funders have never interfered with editorial. "If someone wants to help Minivan Radio, I say there can be no conditions. I tell them even if you call me once and ask me to change something, I will quit."

Which Minivan
Shaheeda wants to distance Minivan Radio from Minvan Daily and Minivan News. "All the time people think that Minivan Radio and Minivan Daily are together. But we don't have the same editorial policy, we don't have the same management, we are independent." But with all three organisations operating from the same premises and sharing the same name, Shaheeda admits it is hard to establish any distance. "I have tried many times to change the premises. I have asked many people to give me an apartment but they are quoting so much more than I pay that I can't." And she says the other two organisations should not have taken on the Minivan name. "I am the one who started Minivan. First came Minivan Radio three years ago, then Minivan News and then Minivan Daily. I don't know how and I don't know why Minivan Daily got my logo. I have a problem with that.I wish Minivan Daily would change their name. I wish Minivan News would change their name. I am not asking them to, but I wish it would happen."
(Source: Zacharias Liangas/HCDX)