Government Wields Power in United Arab Emirates

By Swaffield, Bruce C. | The Quill, August 2006 | Go to article overview
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Government Wields Power in United Arab Emirates


Swaffield, Bruce C., The Quill


One of the wealthiest countries in the world is also one of the most impoverished and difficult for journalists. Despite appearances that all is well with the media in United Arab Emirates, there are numerous problems because of strict government control over what can be reported.

"Unlike some of the other countries in the region, there are few serious press freedom violations in the UAE," according to a report by the International Press Institute. "Indeed, the country has much in common with other liberal countries in the region such as Qatar. However, press freedom in the Middle East is, in many ways, similar to a magician's conjuring trick: What you see is not necessarily what is actually happening."

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) explains that "the UAE constitution guarantees press freedom, but the content and political line of newspapers, especially Arab-language ones, is closely monitored. English-language media have more leeway. A 1988 law states topics that cannot be mentioned and journalists (must) censor themselves in matters of domestic policy, the life of the ruling families, religion or relations with neighboring countries. The foreign press is censored before it goes on sale."

State of the media in the UAE

A well-known UAE journalist was quoted recently in the Khaleej Times as condemning the law.

"The working law is standing in the way of the freedom of the press, and, despite the amendment made to it, journalists were subject to trial in courts," said Mohammed Al Qudsi.

According to an official government Web site, "It is UAE policy to encourage a free press, subject only to normal constraints underpinning the spiritual, moral and political integrity of the country and its people. As a result, the country's mass media enjoys substantial freedom. This has been emphasized ... to those working in the media, especially journalists, to discharge their duties without fear or favor, reminding them that journalism is about seeking the truth, while at the same time correcting mistakes, or helping to avoid them."

An extensive study by OpenNet Initiative - an educational partnership among the University of Toronto, Harvard Law School and the University of Cambridge - points out that the UAE carefully monitors the media.

"The UAE constitution 'allows the publication of any material, as long as publication does not breach the bounds of responsibility that goes with such freedom.' "

Foreign media operating in the new Dubai Media City are exempt, at least technically, from laws governing the local press. Most overseas journalists have, however, been asked by the government to sign a code of conduct saying they will be sensitive to cultural and religious beliefs in the UAE.

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