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

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

UAE press ignores coalition statement on activists’ trial

The Washington Post and other international news outlets just published this Associated Press article detailing the condemnation of the UAE’s trial against five activists here:

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A coalition of international human rights organizations on Thursday accused the United Arab Emirates of violating international legal standards by prosecuting five jailed campaigners for political reforms in the oil-rich Gulf country.

The statement by the 7-member alliance marks the highest level international pressure over the trial. The charges could carry long prison terms.

The activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor who has lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris’ Sorbonne university, were charged with anti-state crimes after signing an Internet petition calling for constitutional changes and free elections.Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a sheik who inherits the post. There are no official opposition groups in the country, and political parties are banned.

The UAE has not had street protests like those that erupted this year across the Middle East, including in neighboring Bahrain. Authorities moved aggressively to keep demands for political change, inspired by the Arab Spring revolts, out of the Gulf federation that includes the glitzy city-state Dubai.

The five activists were arrested in April and charged with insulting the UAE’s rulers and endangering the country’s security. If convicted on all charges, they could face decades in prison.

A verdict is expected Nov. 27. The defendants have no right to appeal.

The decision of the English-language press to ignore this story shows the type of self-censorship prevalent in this country. While journalism in the UAE has certainly improved in the last few years, it still suffers from huge ethical lapses such as the avoidance of contextual reporting on this trial. The main newspapers have run articles after each court appearance, but they have devoted no space at all to the controversy surrounding the arrests. The press has ignored important aspects of the case such as this denouncement from human rights groups and a statement from one of the activists detailing alleged abuses in jail while awaiting the trial.

This abdication of journalistic duty is important to note. As I detailed in my recent research on media literacy in the UAE, what a press outlet chooses to cover has profound impact on the knowledge of media consumers. The people of the UAE deserve to know about the context surrounding this trial, and the press does them a terrible disservice by ignoring crucial elements of the story.

Of course, everyone in the United Arab Emirates expects no less. The rules about “red lines” coverage are well documented in the UAE and throughout the Arab world. Still, journalists in the UAE should limit their self-congratulations for progress in the country, while collectively agreeing to ignore such an important topic.

By | November 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Research compares English and Arabic press in Abu Dhabi

Here are my slides from my presentation in Beirut today at the Arab-U.S. Association of Communication Educators. My co-author, Saba ElGhul-Bebawi, and I examined a month’s coverage from Al Ittihad and The National in Abu Dhabi. Here’s the abstract:

This study explores differences in journalistic practice between two newspapers in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The authors compare one month of coverage of The National, an English-language newspaper, and Al Ittihad, an Arabic-language newspaper, to examine how each critically reports the news. This research aims to understand how both newspapers construct news for the audiences they serve and, in turn, understand the extent to which each newspaper affects the formation of media literacy within the United Arab Emirates. Using Kovach and Rosenthiel’s Principles of Journalism as a theoretical foundation, this study uses textual analysis to examine the presentation of photos, placement of articles, and the construction and omission of news. The conclusions provide insight into the differences in journalism practices between the two newspapers.

Several members of the audience, including NPR’s Andy Carvin, live-tweeted the presentation. See a storify version of their comments here.

You can download the presentation here.

By | October 30th, 2011|Uncategorized|1 Comment

(Nearly) All the news that’s fit to print

The National’s coverage of the activists on trial in Abu Dhabi has been reasonably good given the lack of complete press freedom enjoyed in this country. Yesterday’s article contained robust coverage of Sunday’s court appearance. The article included defense criticisms that the accused weren’t given access to prosecution documents and were being held in solitary confinement. However, the article which appeared in print and now appears on the website, differs slightly from the original report.

The third paragraph from the original report (which I copied after it appeared online) is missing:

Some (of the accused) have have been harassed by other prisoners, gotten lice and suffered foot injuries from being kept in chains, according to the lawyers, Abdul Hameed Al Kumaiti and Mohammed Al Rukun.

I have no idea who made the decision to delete this paragraph, but the details certainly seem relevant. Perhaps the editors at the paper don’t want to repeat unproven allegations about mistreatment. But, the lawyers made these allegations in open court at a public hearing, so it seems well within in the boundaries of good journalism to report them.

By | October 4th, 2011|Uncategorized|0 Comments