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COM 441 502 Media Law Spring 2011

Free Speech and Media Censorship in Dubai

Nouf Farid 2008 23714


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Free speech and censorship is a topic that is rarely discussed among the people of the United Arab Emirates, and specifically in Dubai. Since Dubai is a cosmopolitan and multicultural country it is very difficult to determine what is censored within the media due to the different religions and cultures that conflict each other. It has started to become an issue. The main question asked when mentioning the words censorship, “freedom of speech” and religion is: Do the boundaries set by the cultural tolerance of the Emirati locals play a role in increasing media censorship in Dubai? First of all, what is “freedom of speech”? Does this phrase have the same definition in every country, or in every religion or culture? The main definition of this phrase is “the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.” (Dictionary.com, 2011) For the past years, Dubai has become a magnet for attracting immigrants from around the world into the city. Immigrants carry different backgrounds, cultures and religions. Dubai is known for its local culture and traditions but a majority of its culture is its religion; Islam. Having these combinations of cultures and religions has caused the media to experience difficult situations in determining what should be censored and what shouldn’t. It was mentioned in a BBC article that in the United Arab Emirates; specifically Dubai focus on censoring pornography and the negative analysis of Gulf governments in the media due to the religions norms. (Wheeler. 2006) Media law has set a big role in determining what to be published and not. “The UAE constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, in practice these rights are very limited.” (Gulf news, 2006) Information that is found to be


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negative “about Islam, the government, ruling families, or UAE citizens (by expatriates) are punishable by imprisonment.” (Gulf news, 2006) Officials from the Federal National Council are responsible for establishing the various media censorship laws. In addition government officials in Dubai are responsible in frequently revising censorship laws with the new changes and development in the media world. Finally the National Media Council, who have the right to censor text found within newspapers and spoken texts. “Publications must be licensed and follow official guidelines on reporting. Foreign publications are censored before distribution. Journalists tend to practice self-censorship.” (News BBC, 2011) When discussing media censorship and freedom of speech, there are many people affected by this. First journalists, those write for various local media have faced issues of censorship and self-censorship in Dubai. Journalists use selfcensorship to be careful not to discuss any taboo topics or controversies and threaten their careers as there are state officials who monitor the information broadcasted in the media (Ward,2010). Nevertheless, journalists have to learn to work within the limits and find other ways to discuss sensitive topics to the public. Second radio hosts also risk their future careers, as they are constantly being monitored by government officials on the topics being discussed on radio. This means that nothing can be circulated without adhering to the boundaries set by the government. Anything that is considered harmful, offensive, or even threatening to the country is strictly censored. The UAE is an example of a government-protected press in specific the city of Dubai. The media laws created in this area use a combination of media freedom and responsibility (Ward. 2010). Media broadcasted in the UAE is censored based on a law established by


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the Federal National Council. As the Human Right Watch (2009) stated, media in Dubai has restrictions on speech and contents, which is controlled by the government. Media law, which is also the same law applied to all the Emirates regarding limitations and control on licensing, registration, management and procedure of the media in the UAE, has recently been reviewed and updated by the UAE's legislature, the Federal National Council. Whitson, S, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, discussed his thoughts on the new law by saying “The law will muzzle the press, preventing honest reporting about the country's continuing financial crisis or about its rulers.” (2009). The National Media Council (NMC) is another organization that was formed to take the place of the federal ministry for information and culture, which was disbanded in 2006. This Media Council has the rights to censor texts found within newspapers and spoken texts (Davidson, 2008). In some cases, the NMC censor texts because of the wording of the title or a book that associated Dubai with controversial subject (Davidson, 2008). The UAE government also has the right and capacity to “eavesdrop electronically” to make sure no laws are being broken. (Walters, Quinn, & Jendli, 2006) Etisalat, an Internet provider and gatekeeper in the UAE, is responsible for determining which websites need to be censored or blocked in the country (Wheeler. 2006). Websites that “question discuss or oppose the ruling families of the Gulf States and their absolute power is anachronistic.” (Wheeler, 2006). As stated in a BBC article, www.uaeprison.com and www.arabtimes.com are examples of websites that are published in the United States and are found blocked in the UAE “due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” (Wheeler, 2006).


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In 2007, The Dubai government came across two Pakistani satellite news channels; Geo News and ARY One World, which was lead by General Pervaz Musharraf, had to shutdown their channels which were linked from Dubai Media City and marketed by Tecom due to news on current affairs and political analysis, which was forbidden to be aired in the UAE. (Gulf news, 2007)

The issue of freedom of speech in the UAE has lead to Media activists standing up to propose for adjustments and modifications to the UAE’s press law. This law includes the fundamental rights to freedom of speech in the UAE and the various reporting restrictions, which are used. Mohammad Yousuf, head of the UAE Journalists Association, said, “the main points of the proposed law were that freedom of speech should be the basis, and restrictions curtailed to a few exceptional cases.” (Gulf news, 2006) This new idea of censorship in the media and freedom of speech has not been fully undertaken yet, and has yet to focus on spreading its awareness around UAE. Since Dubai is a fast paced cosmopolitan city, the mixture of cultures and traditions has caused the media to censor a lot of its content in order to protect the integrity of its citizens and expiates that visit.

BIBLIOGRAPHY BBC. (2011). United Arab Emirates country profile. Retrieved from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/737620.stm


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Gulf news. (2006). Journalists seek freedom of speech as basis for press law. Retrieved from: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/media/journalistsseek-freedom-of-speech-as-basis-for-press-law-1.222433 Gulf news. (2007). Pakistani TV channels may move out of Dubai Media City. Retrieved from: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/media/pakistani-tvchannels-may-move-out-of-dubai-media-city-1.213645 Human Rights Watch Organization.(2009). Just the Good News, Please. Retrieved October 23,2010 from http://www.hrw.org/node/82150 Human Rights Watch Organization.(2009). UAE: Media Law Undermines Free Expression. Retrieved October 23, 2010, from http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/13/uae-media-law-underminesfree-expression Quinn, S., Walters, T., & Whiteoak, J. (2004). A Tale of Three (Media) Cities. Global Media Journal, 11-13. Retrieved from: http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/gmj/OldSiteBackup/SubmittedDocu ments/archivedpapers/fall2004/refereed/quinn.htm Ward, S. (2010). Navigating Media Ethics and Censorship in Dubai. Retrieved October 23, 2010, from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/04/navigating-media-ethics-andcensorship-in-dubai097.html Watson, I. (2008). Dubai’s Media Censors Tackle News, Sex and Politics. Retrieved October 23, 2010, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18292869 Wheeler, J. (2006). Web censorship: Correspondent reports. Retrieved October 22, 2010, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5024874.stm

Media Law  

free speech and censorship