Leading on from Matt Fleming’s comments about the lack of press freedom in Dubai, it will be interesting to understand more about the problems journalists face there in light of the other countries we have examined.
In recent news, the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information has looked at the state of press freedom in the United Arab Emirates in the wake of the decision by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoom, to overrule a judge who had sentenced two journalists to jail.
It seems that press freedom, or freedom of expression, is not present in the UAE – regardless of its media explosion. The hrinfo.net report begins with the most obvious example of censorship: the state-ordered shut-down of two Pakistani TV channels, Geo and Ary One, at the request of Pakistan’s military dictator, General Musharraf. This drew international condemnation, but there are also other similar instances in different areas of the media:
Bans on writers: The newspaper Khaleej refused to publish an essay by AbdelKhaliq Abdullah about the necessity for evaluating the performance of UAE universities. He is said to be one of several writers who are subject to bans. They include Said Harib, Mohammed Al-Rokn and Mohammed Almansoory.
Book publishing ban: The ministry of culture and youth has refused permission for Emarati writer and artist Manal Bin Omar to publish her book of poems, Away From The Hands of Whores. The ministry demanded that the “immoral” title be changed.
Website banned: Six legal actions have been launched against Majan.net website, which is now banned under a court order.
The Guardian has written about how the UAE aims to stifle press freedom for foreign journalists working in the United Arab Emirates, with journalists claiming the authorities are stifling press freedom. Altogether it is thought that 1,000 foreign journalists are located in the UAE with many of them working for the leading agencies, Reuters, AP and AFP.
Such reporters have been told to avoid writing “negative stories” about the UAE’s economy. In The Guardian’s report, a journalist working for Bloomberg was detained on arrival at Dubai airport and after a two-hour grilling about his work was warned to “be careful”. Also a senior correspondent based in Dubai for the past eight years has said that press freedom is: “the worst it’s ever been.”
These incidents come as the UAE stands on the brink of adopting a new media law that, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, will undermine freedom of expression. It expressly forbids the publication of stories that are deemed to be harmful to the national economy.
Under the proposed law, fines up to about £100,000 can be imposed for “carrying misleading news that harms the national economy.” It also includes fines of up to £1m for “insulting” members of the government and the ruling family.
It is believed UAE’s rulers are sensitive to criticism in western media. An article in The Independent by Johann Hari, The dark side of Dubai, gave a first hand account of the reality.
In terms of the national press operating within Dubai, a newspaper in operation is The National, the state-owned broadsheet paper published in Dubai’s neighboring sheikdom, Abu Dhabi, that is edited by former Daily Telegraph editor, Martin Newland. From this paper we can see a variation of news, but nothing that coud be damaging for the country, again evidence of the lack of press freedom present there.
Dubai provides a different outlook of press freedom worldwide in terms of the printed press. In broadcasting and digital technologies, it seems constraints are also evident but arguably even tighter to practice freely.