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Deconstructing the draft media law
Human Rights Watch has released a report that highlights the proposed media law’s shortcomings, giving the National Media Council recommendations to improve freedom of speech in the UAE. The council says ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.
April 13, 2009 4:58 by Dana El Baltaji
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the UAE government to review the draft media law on Monday, claiming it will promote self-censorship among journalists. In a report titled Just the Good News, Please: New U.A.E. Media Law Continues to Stifle Press, HRW highlights the draft law’s ambiguities and provides recommendations to bring the UAE’s media laws in line with international standards.
The report identifies a number of articles in the draft law that caused the organization concern, including articles 32, which penalizes journalists up to AED5 million for ‘disparaging’ government officials, and article 33, which penalizes journalists up to AED500,000 for harming the nation’s image and reporting ‘misleading’ information on the economy.
For article 32, the report explains that “…the law’s vagueness exacerbates the problem. Journalists will have little guidance from the Article’s enigmatic phrasing, which renders acts of “disparaging” government officials illegal, with no explanation or commentary regarding what sort of criticism might constitute unlawful disparagement. Such a vague law invites self-serving interpretation by the government.”
HRW expressed similar concerns with Article 33, claiming the term ‘misleading’ is vague and can promote self-censorship among journalists.
Speaking after a press conference in Dubai on Monday, HRW’s head of research for the UAE, Samer Muscati, said the draft law is “Ironic because it undermines the reform mentality. You can’t have a free media when you have such exorbitant fines and punishments based on content. And this is why we’ve here encouraging them to reconsider the law again.”
He adds: “And I think people lose confidence in the media if they know it can’t focus on issues such as the economy. I think it’s problematic because people need information, which they get from the media. And if they find that the media is restricted, then they’ll have less confidence in an already deteriorating economic situation. It doesn’t just harm the media, but also the society.”
The old media law, which was passed in 1980, imposed fines as high as AED20,000 and sanctioned the imprisonment of journalists who broke the law.
In 2007, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, decreed that no journalist may be jailed.
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