What freedom of speech?
While the new law prohibits the UAE’s courts from imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs, it allows imposing of hefty fines for “publishing information that damages the country’s reputation.”
January 21, 2009 3:48 by Aarti Nagraj
Criticize the royal family in the UAE media, and you could pay a fine of up to AED1 million. Publish information that damages the country’s reputation or harms its economy, and you could pay another hefty fine between AED50,000 and AED1 million. That’s what the new media law, which has been approved by the Federal National Council, states. It now needs to be cleared from the Cabinet and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.
It also gives the National Media Council the authority to ban books and publications it believes violate the law.
The draft law, however, prohibits journalists from being jailed for doing their jobs. It echoes a law passed in Dubai by its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in 2008. His decree was instigated by a Dubai court ruling giving two journalists’ jail terms for defaming an Iranian woman. The reporters were later freed.
The UAE is not known for its press freedom; The World Press Freedom Index 2008 released by the international body Reporters Without Borders, ranks the UAE 69th out of a total of 173 countries. We doubt the new law will improve the country’s ranking in 2009.
Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labor and NMC chairman told The National that separate laws would govern the media free zones, which means that international and local press offices based within them will be exempt from this law.
Why should there be a separate law for those outside of free zones? Isn’t it also necessary to allow all media operating either inside or outside free zones freedom speech?
Furthermore, won’t the new law lead to further self-censorship by the media? And with the financial crisis finding new targets everyday, will writing about it amount to “harming the country’s economy”?