UAE

‘Media Law in the United Arab Emirates’ published, available on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that my book on UAE media laws has been published. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.

Since I’ll probably only sell about 8 copies, here are the acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank my colleagues at Zayed University’s College of Communication and Media Sciences in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the opportunity to teach journalism and international media law in the country. Razi Rizvi, a lawyer with Simmons & Simmons, provided valuable insight into many sections of this book and also provided some of the primary sources. The Center for International Media Education (CIME) and the Department of Communication at Georgia State University have also provided support for this project. Ella Doueiry, a student at Georgia State University and assistant at CIME, helped with some of the Arabic translations. Also, my media law research supported by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries also proved helpful. Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Kyu Ho Youm, the president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and John Marshall First Amendment chair at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, for suggesting that I write this book.

I’m not positive, but I think this book is the first to solely address the media laws of an Arab country.

UPDATE: “Media Law in the United Arab Emirates” is also available at Amazon UK.

By | May 9th, 2014|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Despite Arab Spring, ‘culture of repression’ continues to undermine press freedoms in Middle East

Anyone looking for an overall picture of freedom of expression and the press since the Arab Awakening that started in 2011 may want to read my recent article published in Jadaliyya. The analysis examines the moves taken in Arab countries since the unrest around the region–particularly the legal actions taken by governments. The result is rather depressing, particularly from the countries that haven’t yet seen any political change.

Most of these countries use the following legal methods to intimidate journalists and social media activists: Criminal defamation, “insult the ruler” charges, laws against “false communication,” censorship to protect public order, and the licensing of journalists.  Years of government intimidation have created a “culture of repression.” Here’s the section about this issue:

But, perhaps the biggest limitation to Arab journalism (and, again, forgive me for speaking in generalities) is the effect of years of repression on the profession. Many journalists simply accept that they cannot do their jobs properly and have acquiesced to the situation. Others, who have been elevated to positions of authority in Arab newsrooms, have become adept at censoring the journalists under them. In countless discussions with journalists in the Arab world, I’ve heard that editors often do the jobs of government officials by killing the stories they sense may cause trouble.

In his book, “The New Arab Journalist,” Lawrence Pintak reveals many examples of self-censorship in the Arab world. An editor for a Saudi paper says “we know our limits and in a way practice self-censorship. There have been troubles when red lines have been crossed.” And an Egyptian reporter working for an Emirates newspaper said he had asked himself “two or three times what will be the reaction” before publishing an article. Another Gulf editor said it plainly: “Our press is infected with the self-censorship virus.”

The effect of this self-censorship is depressing. Perhaps some of the troubles of the Arab Spring—unemployment, government corruption, and stagnant economic growth—could have been addressed if the news media weren’t beaten down by government harassment. But, these issues were ignored by a timid Arab press and allowed to fester. Despite the proliferation of media outlets in some of these countries, the overwhelming stance is for the media to continue to tow the government line. One newspaper that challenged the status quo in Egypt, the Egypt Independent, sadly shut down earlier this year because it couldn’t stay afloat financially.

These broad criticisms refer to the local press in each country and how they cover their own government and business interests. Many press outlets provide laudable coverage of situations in neighboring countries. For example, The National in the United Arab Emirates closely covers arrests in Kuwait, Oman, and other Arab countries over freedom of speech issues. However, when reporting on arrests in its own country, the paper defers to government statements or muted trial coverage.

Fed up with the old media outlets that self-censor at home, many residents have turned to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to give and receive impartial and unfiltered information. The result was an explosion throughout much of the Arab world. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen have all seen their long-time autocratic rulers depart. The state-aligned local media could not protect them. And those countries that haven’t yet seen a change in leadership are worried about their future and keen to stop social media from evolving into a space for free expression. All of the Arab sheikdoms have made arrests for speech on Twitter—sending an important signal the people that they expect boundaries to be respected. Kuwait has arrested dozens of people on “insulting the Emir” charges, while the UAE has arrested scores of residents (mostly over what they said on social media platforms) and ultimately charged them with sedition. Even in Qatar–which hosts the Al Jazeera and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom–convicted a poet and sentenced him to 15 years in prison because of a poem in which he said that all Arabs lived under similar free speech conditions as pre-revolution Tunisians.

Please read the rest of the article–it includes a slew of hyperlinks to my sources.

By | June 19th, 2013|Uncategorized|2 Comments

I’ve been kicked out of the United Arab Emirates

Over the summer my wife and I both received notices that our contracts had been terminated and our residency visas would be canceled. Our employers told us that the order came from “outside the organization” and with no further explanation. Without a residency visa or a job, my family and I have been forced to leave the United Arab Emirates.

So, I appear to have discovered the limit for the tolerance of academic discourse in the UAE.

Matt J. Duffy, former assistant professor of communication at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi

During my two-year tenure, my colleagues and others constantly warned me that such a fate could await me. Still, I felt I had a duty as an academic and professor at Zayed University to speak and teach with minimal reservation about my area of expertise—journalism, international media law and communication ethics.

I wrote columns in Dubai’s Gulf News about press freedom and other issues. I taught international media law in my classes, including accurate appraisal of the UAE’s media regulation and how it differed from other approaches. I also helped organize events that allowed for public discussion and debate of Emirati issues. I blogged and tweeted about sensitive subjects—particularly how local press coverage differed from international counterparts. I launched a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a prestigious U.S. journalism organization. And these students organized a celebration of the U.N.’s World Press Freedom Day in May. See the post below for a more exhaustive list of activities that may have led to my ouster.

I understood the risks in taking these actions and have no regrets.

But, I should stress that I didn’t move to the UAE hoping to garner attention and get booted out as a security threat. I observed the landscape, tried to decipher the “red lines” that I shouldn’t cross, and listened to the words of the country’s leaders who constantly stress the importance of education to the development of the nation. H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told faculty at a recent convocation that he wanted the university to “engage with the community.” I followed the example of other local university professors who offered constructive observations from an academic perspective.

Tales of ex-pats who are mysteriously whisked away for various offenses are fairly plentiful in the United Arab Emirates. Some of them take on an apocryphal tone. I thought it might be helpful to document exactly how my departure was orchestrated.

H.H. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, minister of higher education

The Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) informed my wife, Dr. Ann Duffy, of the news of her immediate termination in mid-June. She was told that H.E. Dr. Mugheer Al Khaili was instructed to terminate Ann’s contract and revoke her visa. My wife had served as Division Manager for P-12 Policy, Planning and Performance Management with ADEC for more than a year and had received positive feedback on her performance. She holds a PhD in education policy and has 25 years of experience. She was also serving as chair of the school board for the American Community School, the school affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

I learned about my fate six weeks later via a phone call from Zayed University’s provost, Larry Wilson. He also said that the order came from outside the university system and that Shiekh Nahyan had tried to appeal the directive. This appeal explains the delay in notification between my wife’s termination and my own. After hearing of my wife’s termination, we assumed my notice would be arriving soon and were surprised after a few days that we hadn’t heard anything from Zayed University.

No other information accompanied our termination orders, other than that they originated from outside of the respective organizations. It appears certain that these directives to fire my wife and I originated from the security forces, although we have no more information than presented here.

I should note that at around the same time the university was also told to terminate the contract of one of my faculty colleagues. He had served with distinction in the College of Communication and Media Sciences for 14 years. No explanation accompanied his dismissal either.

I am heartened to learn that the university did not choose to fire me and have great admiration for Sheikh Nahyan. He appears serious about creating a university that strives to compete at a global level and understands the freedom required for academics to practice their profession without interference. Last year, we held a forum at Zayed University about the impact of censored media on the Arab world. Sheikh Nayhan invited the attendees to his majlis and spoke favorably of the event and the need for academics to bring these issues up for discussion. His comments were carried on the state news agency, WAM. These terminations seriously undermine the efforts to bring world-class education to Emirati citizens.

The unknown member of the security forces who suggested kicking me out of the country

Unfortunately, Sheikh Nahyan wasn’t able to counterbalance the demands of the security forces. In fact, since the advent of the Arab Spring in early 2011, the security forces in the UAE appear to be winning every argument. The government recently booted out several organizations that promoted community engagement and security forces arrested dozens of Emiratis over the summer.

That’s too bad.

The UAE that I moved to 2010 appeared to be a progressive country in a region of the world that featured little progression. The country’s leaders talked about the desire to build a knowledge economy and educate its residents according to international standards. I was particularly impressed that Sheikh Nahyan ordered the communication department I joined to attempt to earn accreditation from a U.S.-based journalism education accrediting body, ACEJMC. This organization insists that institutions offer “instruction in and understand the range of systems of freedom of expression around the world, including the right to dissent, to monitor and criticize power, and to assemble and petition for redress of grievances.”

I suspect that having two professors fired by the security forces will put a damper on my former department’s chances for accreditation.

The actions of the UAE’s security forces stand in stark contrast to the country’s publicly professed intentions regarding the development and education of its workforce. Quite simply, it’s impossible to teach creativity and innovation in an environment where both teachers and students are scared to express themselves.

To be fair, the UAE is more progressive than many of its neighbors. The country allows people of most religions to worship freely here and is generally welcoming to outsiders. Still, we cannot brush over its steadfast opposition to allow for even moderate forms of free expression and ability to offer dissent.

I suspect few Emiratis will speak publicly decrying my ouster and some will certainly cheer it. The security forces have created an atmosphere in which Emiratis understand the consequences of openly questioning the government’s actions. The public sector accounts for roughly 90 percent of jobs for Emiratis, meaning that anyone who crosses a “red line” can easily find they—or even a member of their family—are no longer able to receive security clearance for their high-paying government position. The government also employs more direct methods–like indefinitely detaining its citizens–to quell opposition voices.

These actions leave the sphere of public discussion in the UAE severely limited.

At some point, the intellectual leaders of the UAE must debate whether throwing people like me out of the country is making it stronger or slowing down progress. It can’t be both.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Click here to read my top 18 guesses at why I got booted from the UAE.

Click here to read a personal note.

And click here to see some supporting documents including my last job evaluation.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post referred incorrectly to Provost Larry Wilson’s job title.

By | August 28th, 2012|Uncategorized|78 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 – gmail.com. (I occasionally update and re-publish this post.)

arabmediasociety.com/topics/index.php?t_article=286
By | June 10th, 2012|Uncategorized|3 Comments

Skype will remain blocked in UAE

Sorry for my disappointing headline, but I think it reflects reality.

My recent column in Gulf News addressed the blocking of the Skype voice-over-Internet service in the United Arab Emirates. I pointed out that occasionally a news report would indicate that the block may soon be lifted — but there’s little evidence to suggest the government will change its position anytime soon. Here’s a bit from the column:

Still, the blocking of Skype seems to be a widely disdained practice — particularly with the large expatriate community who would like to use the service legally to speak to relatives and friends back home. From time to time, expatriates get excited at the prospect that the government may lift the Skype ban.

This happened last week following comments made by Mohammad Al Ganem, Director-General of TRA, during a one-hour Q&A session on the Twitter platform.

Users could tweet questions to Al Ganem and he responded to many inquiries, including a query about whether Skype would ever be unblocked. Al Ganem responded that Skype would be unblocked as soon as the company applied for a telecom licence in the UAE.

“It is purely a licensing matter,” he said. “I hope they come to TRA for a licence.”

The only problem with this position is that Skype is never going to apply for a licence to operate in the UAE, because Skype doesn’t apply for licences to operate anywhere. That’s why it’s free. Users simply download the software and start making calls.

Most governments don’t interfere with this process — Skype hasn’t had to apply for any licences to operate in the 150 countries where it’s not blocked. Quite simply, Skype will continue to not work in the UAE until the TRA decides to revise its position on the regulation of VoIP services.

My advice: Accept that Skype is blocked and look into technological alternatives.

By | May 28th, 2012|Uncategorized|0 Comments