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
According to Muscati, the new draft law is a vast improvement on the old law; a number of the content restrictions in the old law are not present in the current draft, “which is why we can’t understand the government’s decision to include Articles 32 and 33.”
Muscati explained: “The NMC says “we won’t imprison anyone, but we’ll impose this fine. And if you can’t pay the fine, you’ll be in prison. But you won’t be in prison because you’re a journalist; you’ll be there because you can’t afford to pay your fines.” It’s a way of removing imprisonment from the journalism field to the business field. It’s a novel approach, but the effect is the same.”
HRW is also concerned with the licensing rules in the draft law. Muscati explained it gives the National Media Council (NMC) complete control over which publishing house operates in the UAE. For instance, the law grants the NMC the right to ask for unspecified security deposits to help pay for companies’ fines, and potentially discriminates against small media companies.
Another issue the HRW raises in the report is the draft law’s claim that it “regulates publication of all films, scientific articles, musical composition, news documents and most other forms of recorded public expression”; according to Muscati, the wording is unspecific and can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Furthermore, it is unclear if the law regulates electronic media.
And finally, because the draft law is not applicable to media within the nation’s Free Zones, the report claims it promotes double standards. It’s a point that is especially sensitive to Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati blogger and activist: “This is in itself is a way of stating that the law is a double standard law; it treats those outside Free Zones worse than others.”
“We [activists] will continue to fight the law. We will never compromise our freedom,” he adds.
WAM published a lengthy statement by the NMC in response to HRW’s report only hours after the press conference on Monday: “It is the view of the NMC [...] that such a preamble as is suggested by Human Rights Watch would be superfluous and unnecessary. The National Media Council continues to take the view that the new draft law represents a significant step forward in terms of press freedom in the UAE.”
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