free speech

Regarding academic freedom in the #UAE

Here’s my interview with U.K. journalist Denis Campbell on his World View show. I discuss my tenure at Zayed University as well as the current level of free expression in the United Arab Emirates. To be clear, I really appreciate and value my time as an academic in the UAE — I only wish my tenure wasn’t cut short.

By | January 31st, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Journalism, media laws and press freedom in the UAE

The following links and explanations should help provide an understanding of the state of journalism, media laws and press freedoms in the UAE:

  • My Gulf News article “Revised media law for the UAE” outlines a suggestion for a new media law in the UAE. Essentially, I propose starting with the Abu Dhabi Media Zone’s content guidelines which starts with an understanding of the unique cultural situation in the Emirates.
  • I’ve written three articles for Dubai’s Gulf News about impediments to a free press in the United Arab Emirates: Challenges facing press freedom, Civil courts should handle defamation, and UAE journalists need more legal protections.
  • At Mideast Posts, you can read my observations about the local press and its coverage of sensitive topics: UAE newspapers and the self-censorship debate (concerning self-censorship at The National), Peninsula journalism attack resonates regionallyNewspapers inconsistent over blogger arrests, and UAE media breaks silence on Emirat’s arrest.
  • My blog post about the CNN interview with HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid that explores his thoughts on freedom of expression in the UAE.
  • I’ve also written many posts about the news coverage and other issues in the UAE. See them all here.
  • Sam Potter’s “A paralysis of analysis.” Features quotes from Ibrahim Al Abed, director general of the National Media Council, the media regulatory agency in the UAE, defending the highly criticized draft press law. Here’s my post about an interview with Abed in the Gulf News.
  • Dana El-Baltaji’s “Emirites Press Law.” Summarizes the draft press law and the concerns of its critics. The country’s ruler never signed the law, so it’s effectively dead. The country still operates under the 1980 Press and Publications Law. The government news agency WAM recently reported that H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s decree that journalists shouldn’t go to jail for doing their job should be considered law.
  • Abdulla Rasheed’s “The ceiling of press freedom is falling.” The Abu Dhabi editor of Gulf News complains about government interference. (Abed cited this column as an indication that a free press exists in the UAE.)
  • The Open Net Initative’s report on Internet filtering in the UAE. Study from 2009 finds “substantial” political filtering and “pervasive” social censorship.
  • Andrew Mill’s “A Vision in the Desert.” Details The National newspaper’s efforts to bring Western-style journalism to the UAE. The founding editor, Martin Newland, left his position as editor of the London Telegraph to take the job but left after about a year. His replacement, Hassan Fattah, was a Mideast reporter for the New York Times before joining The National as a deputy editor. Many observers agree that the paper has become more timid since Newland’s departure for a position with Abu Dhabi Media, the paper’s government-backed owner. Still, I’ve commented frequently on the good journalism at The National and most observers also note the media here have greatly improved over the past five years.
  • My interview with the Doha Center for Media Freedom about the coverage of the “UAE5” trial in the UAE in 2011.

Please send any me any additional links or ask me any questions. Send email to mattjduffy – at – (I occasionally update and re-publish this post.)
By | June 10th, 2012|Uncategorized|3 Comments

Social media changes UAE landscape

The last few paragraphs of my column in Gulf News today on the latest press freedom rankings which saw the UAE decline because of Internet filtering and other factors:

One overriding message from the Arab Spring is that technology has provided a powerful tool for the free flow of information. Old approaches towards regulation and control are still effective, but Facebook, Twitter and YouTube increasingly allow for messages to circumvent restrictions.

Indeed, some of the conversations once reserved for the blocked Al Hewar website are now taking place in plain view amid the UAE’s vibrant Twitter community.

Aided by new technology, the trend towards more communication and less ability to control appears to be inevitable. But, how governments choose to respond to this new reality is still up for debate.

Perhaps next year’s press freedom rankings will help us answer the question.

This column meshes nicely with my other published pieces on press freedom and freedom of expression in the UAE. Click on the links to read “Civl courts should handle defamation” and “UAE journalists need more legal protections.”

By | February 10th, 2012|Uncategorized|1 Comment

Press freedom rankings decline in UAE

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.

By | January 31st, 2012|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Amartya Sen on value of a free press

Just started reading Nobel Prize-winning author Amartya Sen’s “The Idea of Justice.” What an incredible thinker.

In a chapter entitled “Democracy as Public Opinion,” he outlines four reasons to embrace a free press in any society.

To paraphrase:

1) “The first — and perhaps the most elementary — connection concerns the direct contribution of free speech in general and press freedom in particular to the quality of our lives.” Media freedom allows us to satisfy the innate desire to communicate with each other and receive information.

2) “The press has a major informational role in disseminating knowledge and allowing critical scrutiny.” The informational function of the press leads to scientific advancements and cultural innovations.

3) “Media freedom has an important protective function in giving voice to the neglected and the disadvantaged, which can greatly contribute to human security.” Since leaders can be insulated from realities of day-to-day living, a free press sheds light on issues that otherwise could go unnoticed.

4) “Informed and unregimented formulation of values requires openness of communication and argument.” The media can elevate issues up to the sphere of public discussion and help with the identification and resolution of issues.

Good stuff. You can read a eight-page excerpt of his book here.

By | November 21st, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments