Journalism in the UAE
The government of UAE has over the years employed fear crusades against mass communication organizations. Journalists have often been detained, jailed, or fined and at times interrogating editors as well as reporters for allegedly contravening media laws that are ambiguous.
At one moment, it would be tolerable for mass media journalist to engage in reporting events such as the sex scandal of Ras Al Khaimah in the northern region of Emirate, and in another moment, the journalist could be hunted down by the government of UAE for suggesting that the country harbor activities related to prostitution.
The current media law governing mass communication journalism in the UAE is ambiguous and overtaken by events (Freedom House, 2009). Thus, the government can censor news and information from mass communication journalism that may have content that it considers inappropriate.
A case in point is the incident where the UAE government blocked Flickr.Com and www.uaetorture. Com websites for allegedly disseminating information that is inappropriate. To this end, mass communication journalism is, to a lesser extent, prevalent in the UAE.
In the year 2009, The National Media Council (NMC) that was formed to replace the members of the disbanded Ministry of Information and Culture drafted a media law that was expected to address the ambiguities that existed in the repealed law as well as alleviate the freedom of the press.
Nevertheless, the media law that was published never met the expectations of activists and journalist in the UAE (Ibrahim Al-Abed et al. 2005). Consequently, activists and journalists complained that the media law that was promulgated by the National Media Council consolidated the powers of government to control and direct the mass communication sector.
There were particular sections of the law that were unfavorable to the mass media industry such as article 33 of the law which imposed a fine on any journalist who disseminated any information that could be deemed to “disingenuous” on the country’s’ economy or any information that could tarnish the image of UAE.
In such instances, journalists could be fined up to about AED 500,000. Also, article 32 of the same law imposed an outrageous penalty of about AED 5 million on any journalist who reports on any matter that seems reproachful to any royal family member or officials of the UAE government.
As if that is not enough, the law empowers the National Media Council (NMC) to demand from media houses, security deposits that are unspecified for purposes of assisting the media companies in servicing probable fines in the event of any contravention of the law. The requirement of such security deposits that are unspecified is seen by many analysts as a clear assurance to that government that the media industry will always be under its control (Rugh 2004).
This is because the UAE government is capable of locking out media companies through imposing high-security deposit if the government deem a particular media house or journalist does not support its interest. Surprisingly, the media law empowers the UEA government to manipulate the process of taking into service employees in the mass communication industry.
The conditions of journalist in the UAE, particularly regarding the current media law are wanting. The Association of Journalists in the UAE presented a petition to the government demanding that the current media law requires urgent amendments to guarantee the rights and freedom of the press as well as the development of mass communication journalism in the UAE (Pintak 2007).
Further, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) as well as the Qatar based Doha Center for Media Freedom destined the current media law as an obstacle to the freedom of the press in UAE. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated the effect that the promulgated media law in the UAE does not promote the freedom of the press in the county but rather continues to suppress the very rights and freedom of journalist in the UAE.
In the statement released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the media law promulgated by the government of UAE contained arbitrary articles that imposed outrageous fines; the law also imposed inconsiderate requirements for registration as well as limiting the freedom of speech.
In the opinion of the Human Rights Watch, such rules and the media law, in general, are geared towards checking any form of criticism that may be directed towards the UAE government from the mass communication industry.
The protection of government officials as well as members of the royal family from any form of criticism from the media is a clear infringement of the fundamental principle regarding the freedom of the press under international human rights which guarantees journalist the freedom to report on public officials as well as politicians.
Analyst of the mass communication industry in the UAE think that the imposition of such exorbitant fines on a journalist is a new way used by the government of the UAE to restrain the freedom of journalist with the same effect as the earlier laws (Ayish 2003). This is because failure to pay such fines by a journalist would earn him or her a term in jail only that this time round the incarceration is not because the person involved is a journalist but because he fails to raise the stipulated amount of fine.
The prevalence of mass communication journalism in the UAE came under a big test when ABC News a media house from the united states aired a film that contained torture activities executed by a royal family member from the UAE (Ginges & Pintak 2009). The tape allegedly featured one Sheikh Issa torturing one Mohammed Shah a businessman from Afghanistan. The tape also contained a person who seemingly wore the police uniform of United Arab Emirate participating in the act of torturing the businessman from Afghanistan.
The person who took this tape to the ABC News broadcast alleges that he was arrested falsely by the police in Abu Dhabi on charges of trafficking drugs. Bassam Nabulsi served a three month jail time for refusing to surrender to the UAE government the tape containing the torture incident. Surprisingly none of the UAE media agencies attempted to comprehensively report on this matter since it involved a nephew of Dubai ruler.
The only story about the incident was reported in the National daily news papers based in Dubai. Nevertheless, the article contained in the local newspapers was fundamentally fuzzy, and it gave no clear account of the issue of the alleged torture incident. The follow-up story of the incident that was disseminated by the local newspapers only indicated that the case was being investigated by the UAE government without any further details of what had been unearthed by the investigation.
According to Pintak & Ginges (2008), there were a couple of obstacles that stood in the way of other journalists attempt to report on the story: to begin with, those journalist who had friends in the UAE government cautioned them against covering the anecdote; secondly, the other journalist in the UAE understood perfectly that they had to be very careful in reporting anything that involved any member of the royal family in the UAE as the may be trailing on a loose rope.
It is evident from such incidences that mass communication journalism in the UAE is to a lager extent under the control and direction of the government making it impossible for a journalist to report on matters of public importance. A case in point is the incident that involved a group of investors who were allegedly defrauded by a developer who sold them properties in buildings that did not belong to him.
The investors, according to The Independent, a newspaper based in London, were claiming a refund of their investment totaling to eighty-six million Great Britain pounds. The investors never got the sort of media coverage from the UAE as they had expected to air out their grievances. In this incident, the government official of the UAE issued a warning against publication or reporting on the press conference called by the investors. This move by the UAE government is seen as a cover-up of the developers’ fraudulent acts against the investors since the developer one Sheikh Maktoum was a nephew to the Dubai ruler (Aggarwal & Gupta 2001).
The warnings to the media agencies in the UAE came about following the direct involvement of a royal family member in the scandal. The mass communication journalism in the UAE is therefore sandwiched between a rock and a hard place particularly due to the current media law which aims at protecting the interest of government officials as well as the royal family members most of whom (UAE royals) hold influential positions in most if not all companies in the UAE and public offices.
This becomes almost impossible for a journalist in the UAE to report on matters related to government offices as they may be crossing the line of the royal family, a venture that may earn them a cruel fine. To this end, mass communication journalism in the UAE can never be able to hold public officials accountable for any wrongful act they committee while in office.
The law governing mass communication journalism in the UAE is a major hindrance to the mass media freedom in the country. It plays the role of insulating the questionable acts of government bureaucrats and redeeming them from public criticism as well as accountability. In all, the role of mass communication journalism in the UAE as a watchdog of the public is a nice dream far from being actualized (Davidson 2008).
It should, however, be noted that the media law in UAE gives some form of relieving to mass communication journalism in the sense that no journalist may be jailed or detained for doing their work. This is by a decree issued in 2007 by Sheikh Mohammed, a ruler in Dubai.
This law was highly welcomed by journalist and mass media industry in the UAE. This led to the publication of a commentary on the issue in the Gulf News which is a Dubai daily newspapers the commentary explained that the promulgation of the new media law hold up the role of mass communication journalism in the UAE, as well as coagulate the practice and principle of freedom within the parameters of the law and the rights of individual to access information. The commentary further states that. Unlike the law passed in 1980, the current law excludes any possibility of arbitrary incarceration of journalists in their line of work (Ibrahim Al-Abed et al. 2006).
Indeed, mass communication journalism in the EUA has a long way to go, particularly about the obstacles posed by the current media law. The media law in the UAE imposed a fine on any journalist who disseminated any information that could be deemed to “disingenuous” on the country’s’ economy or any information that could tarnish the image of UAE (Mellor 2008).
Further, the law imposed an outrageous penalty of about AED 5 million on any journalist or mass media company that publish or report on any matter that seems reproachful to any royal family member or officials of the UAE government. In the words of Pejman (2009), the existence of such laws in the twenty-first century negates the principle of press freedom and rather serves as insulation of the dubious acts of government bureaucrats and redeeming them from public criticism as well as accountability.
Consequently, the role of mass communication journalism in the UAE as a watchdog of the public interest is rendered useless and ineffectual. Even though journalist may not be incarcerated in the UAE while in their line of work, the existence of such exorbitant fines on a journalist is a new way used by the government of the UAE to restrain the freedom of journalist with the same effect as the earlier laws.
Aggarwal, B., & Gupta, V., (2001), Handbook of journalism and mass communication, Concept Publishing Company, NY.
Ayish, M., (2003), ‘Media Convergence in the United Arab Emirates: A Survey of Evolving Patterns’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol. 9, (3) p.77- 82.
Davidson, C., (2008), Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, Hurst, London.
Freedom House. (2009), Freedom of the Press 2009, Freedom House, Washington.
Ginges, J., & Pintak, L., (2009), ‘Inside the Arab Newsroom,’ Journalism Studies,Vol.10 (2) p. 157-177.
Ibrahim Al-Abed, et al., (2006), Chronicle of progress in mass communication journalism. Trident Press Ltd, Abu Dhabi.
Ibrahim Al-Abed, et al., (2005), United Arab Emirates yearbook on mass communication. Trident Press Ltd, Abu Dhabi.
Mellor, N., (2008), ‘Arab Journalists as Cultural Intermediaries’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol. 13, (4) p. 456- 463.
Pejman, P., (2009), ‘English newspapers in the United Arab Emirates: Navigating the crowded market’, Arab Media and Sciety, 4/4/2012, 705.
Pintak, L., and Ginges, J., (2008), ‘The Mission of Arab Journalism: Creating Change in a Time of Turmoil’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, Vol.13, (4) p. 193- 200.
Pintak, L., (2007), ‘Reporting a revolution: the changing Arab media landscape’. .
Rugh, W., (2004), Arab mass media: newspapers, radio, and television in Arab politics. Westport, Praeger Publishers, CT.
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