The United Arab Emirates saw its rankings in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index drop from 87 to 112. Here’s the explanation from the report:
… [A]bove all because of its Internet filtering policy and the imprisonment of Ahmed Mansoor, a blogger who administers the
online pro-democracy forum Al-Hewar (“The Dialogue”), from 8 April to 28 November along with four other activists, known collectively as “The UAE 5.” He was reportedly mistreated while detained and his family was repeatedly threatened.
At the end of the day, these types of “watchdog” reports can be quite arbitrary. One could argue, for instance, that the local press’ sparse coverage of the arrest and trial of Mansoor actually represents an improvement in critical reporting here. Still, the drop in rankings does reflect the reality of the situation — the arrests definitely led to a decline in free expression in the United Arab Emirates. But, the pardon of the UAE5 (unmentioned in the report) certainly helped people here breathe a little easier.
As I recently wrote in Dubai’s Gulf News, a solution to improving the press rankings in the UAE would be for the government to overhaul its media law. The 1980 Press and Publication Act provides little protection for working journalists. That my editorial appeared in a Dubai newspaper shows that there’s probably more press freedom here than many might suspect.