Politics Society & Culture

Saudi embassy stirs controversy with cash handout to journalists

February 21 16:49 2017

The Saudi Arabian embassy in Malé has stirred controversy after handing out envelopes with MVR500 (US$32) in cash to journalists who were invited to cover an event on Sunday.

The envelopes were handed out after the journalists covered the donation of US$1,000 from Ambassador Bader Ali al-Kohail to Ahmed Nabeeh, a 14-year-old autistic boy who memorised the Quran.

Abdulla Mohamed, a Raajje TV journalist who covered the event, told Maldives Independent that an embassy official called his phone soon after he left the building and asked if he could come back.

“I initially thought that they wanted to give a statement and went back inside with my cameraman,” he said.

“It was a room inside the embassy and a staff handed out the envelopes. He did not say anything and we thought it was an invitation for something.”

The journalists found that the sealed envelope contained cash after leaving the embassy.

“I immediately called my editor and asked him what I should do. I told him that ethically a journalist should not accept gifts like that and we returned the cash to the embassy.”

When he went back inside to return the cash, Mohamed said he saw the same sealed envelope being handed to a journalist and cameraman from the Public Service Media, the state media company, as well as another journalist he was unable to identify.

PSM officials could not be reached for comment.

According to Mihaaru, the only printed daily newspaper in the Maldives, its journalist and photographer left the embassy before the envelopes were handed out.

“They called our journalist, too. When they learned it was a gift, they didn’t go to collect it,” the paper said.

The Saudi embassy drew stringent criticism online over the incident. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, the de facto opposition leader, praised the Raajje TV journalists for returning the cash and called the incident a “disgrace”.

Contacted for comment, an official at the Saudi embassy told the Maldives Independent: “There is no one who can speak to the media here, brother.”

The Maldives does not have a legally binding code of ethics for journalists with guidelines for accepting gifts.

While tea or refreshments are often offered after events or press conferences, Sunday’s incident was the first time that a cash gift was openly handed out to journalists.

The Saudi embassy in the Maldives was opened in August 2015 after the administration of President Abdulla Yameen fostered closer ties with the kingdom.

The incident comes ahead of an upcoming official visit to the Maldives by King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and growing concern over an alleged plan to sell an entire atoll to the Saudi royal family.

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Source URL:  Maldives Independent

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