press freedom

World Press Freedom Day a huge success at ZU

Just wanted to acknowledge that the celebration of World Press Freedom Day at my university went off quite well. The student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists deserves the lion’s share of the credit as well as our three Emirati speakers who all stressed the need for more press freedom and better journalism in the UAE.

One of my students put together an incredible Storify that summarized the whole day. Here’s the link.

By | May 16th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments

World Press Freedom Day

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, marked by the United Nations to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom.” The UN will be hosting a conference in Tunisia and students at my university have organized their own celebration. They’re pretty excited about it — evidenced by the size of the banner above.

Our student chapter of the UAE Society of Professional Journalists organized the event under the tutelage of my fantastic colleague Dr. David Bulla. We’ll have three Emirati speakers on campus who will speak about issues surrounding press freedom: Mishaal al Gergawi, a public affairs commentator; Noura al Kaabi, a member of the Federal National Council and CEO of TwoFour54, an Arab media incubator; and Mohammad al Hammadi, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Arabia. Activities include a Debate Club debate, poetry readings, soapbox speeches and T-shirt and food giveaways. It’s shaped up to be a pretty great event, and I’m quite proud of the students who have made it happen.

To follow along with the activities, check out the Twitter hashtag #ZU_WPFD.

While I’m discussing press freedom, allow me to reference my last column in Gulf News. I suggested that the Abu Dhabi Media Authority’s content guidelines would make an excellent foundation for a new press law in the United Arab Emirates. These guidelines, while making sure to respect local culture and sensibilities, provide plenty of space to practice good journalism. My conclusion:

In this respect, one part of the media zone’s guidelines is stunning and notably absent in the UAE’s current and draft media laws. The guidelines make clear the editorial justification that allows the media to disseminate the news even if it “has the potential to cause harm.”

Editorial justifications, according to the MZA code, include “the exposure of crime, corruption, antisocial behaviour, injustice or serious impropriety, protecting public health or safety, exposing lies, hypocrisy or materially misleading claims made by individuals or organisations, disclosing incompetence, and negligence or dereliction of duty that affects the public.”

The guidelines essentially authorise news outlets to practice the type of healthy watchdog journalism commonplace in many nations. A UAE news organisation operating under a media law based on this code would feel empowered to investigate wrongdoing and public malfeasance without worry of any retribution. Even if the police, prosecutors or an offended party took issue with a report and took the journalist to court, a judge would have to weigh the reporting against the stated legal protections regarding the exposure of wrongdoing. Such a law would drastically improve the ability of journalists to practise good journalism in the UAE.

As Arab countries struggle with the new realities of a post-Arab Spring world, many will be taking a look at their media laws — all of which reflect an outdated mass media era. Indeed, Qatar recently announced that their government would soon issue a revision of its media law. The UAE should lead the way in this effort. In a country that excels at firsts, a revised media law based on these culturally sensitive content guidelines would provide an excellent example for the Arab world to follow.

Will be interesting to see if we see any movement on this issue — from the UAE, Qatar or any other countries in the Middle East.

By | May 2nd, 2012|Uncategorized|0 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

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