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 Censorship imposed by financial penalty rather than jail
 

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21st December
2008
  

Pressing Changes...

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UAE working on new media law that should spare journalists from imprisonment

UAE flag The draft of an amended media law would be finalised by January 2009 for submission to the Cabinet for ratification, said Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, head of the Federal National Council's Committee of Education, Youth, Culture and Media.

The draft law is a revision of the Press and Publications federal law of 1980.

Dr Al Qubaisi declined to disclose details of the amendments being proposed by the FNC in its current session.

The draft law states that there shall not be prior censorship of any media outlets in the country. It incorporates the previous directives of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to prohibit the imprisonment of journalists, resorting instead to fines when there are violations of public law. The draft law states that the owners of all newspapers and their editors-in-chief should be UAE nationals, who do not have a crime record.

In cases of emergencies (or other instances decided by the cabinet) newspapers and other media outlets, will be obligated to publish all information sent to them by government agencies.

All journalists will be invited to attend the FNC's discussion of the new draft law in its upcoming term.

Workers in the media see the decision of Shaikh Mohammad to prohibit the imprisonment of journalists as a step in the right direction for the future of media in the country.

 

28th January
2009
  

Update: Vague Censorship...

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New UAE press law replaces jail by sever financial penalties

UAE flag The UAE Government plans to clarify its new media law, which some observers have said is too vague.

The draft law was passed by the Federal National Council (FNC), although it must still be approved by the Cabinet and the President to take effect.

The first draft of the 45-article piece of legislation was written by the National Media Council, a government body that oversees journalists. An FNC committee then reworked the draft, making changes to at least 60% of its provisions.

Ibrahim al Abed, the NMC’s director general, said the Government would release an appendix to the law within eight weeks that should clear up what critics have termed vague provisions.

The appendix could include more details about who would be held liable in a media case, whether it will be the individual journalist, the editor-in-chief, or the news organisation as a whole.

According to the draft law, the responsibility is to be shared by the editor-in-chief and the journalist, although media organisations could be fined.

Mr al Abed defended the fines, which start at Dh10,000 (US$2,720) and rise to Dh5 million for insulting the President, the Vice President, the Rulers, and the Crown Princes and their deputies.

Under the proposed legislation, journalists are protected against being imprisoned for what they write, but can face hefty fines for publishing or broadcasting material that harms national interests or the economy.

Mohammed Yousef, the director of the UAE Journalists Association, said last week that he would continue to lobby for changes to the law before it was passed. Yousef said the FNC committee had integrated almost none of his association’s recommendations.

 

16th April
2009
  

Update: An Insult to Free Press...

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New UAE press law with fines of £1 million for insulting the government or royal family

Human Rights Watch logo A new draft law to regulate the news media unlawfully restricts free expression and will unduly interfere with the media's ability to report on sensitive subjects, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The pending law also includes provisions that would grant the government virtually complete control in deciding who is allowed to work as a journalist and which media organizations are allowed to operate in the country.

The report: Just the Good News, Please: New UAE Media Law Continues to Stifle Press says that the new law contains some improvement over the draconian media law currently in effect. But it will continue to punish journalists for such infractions as disparaging government officials or publishing misleading news that harms the country's economy. Human Rights Watch researched the report by analyzing the provisions of the pending law as well as interviewing foreign and local journalists based in the UAE.

The law will muzzle the press, preventing honest reporting about the country's continuing financial crisis or about its rulers, said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch: Its vague clauses and harsh fines will almost guarantee arbitrariness by government authorities and self-censorship by the media.

The Federal National Council, the UAE's legislature, passed the draft law on January 20, 2009, and it awaits the signature of President Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. More than 100 leading Emirati academics, journalists, lawyers, and human rights activists have urged the president to reconsider the law. The Human Rights Watch report also urges the president not to approve the pending law in its current form.

Unlike the current law, the proposed law contains no criminal penalties and will be part of the civil law. It reduces the number of administrative infractions that media organizations can be held liable for. The law also instructs government institutions to facilitate information flow to media, and, most significant, mandates that journalists cannot be coerced into revealing their sources.

But the law imposes exorbitant civil penalties that could bankrupt media outlets and silence dissenting voices found to violate the overbroad restrictions on content. Media organizations found to have disparaged senior government officials or the royal family face fines up to 5,000,000 dirhams (US$1,350,000), and those found to have misled the public and harmed the economy face fines of up to 500,000 dirhams (US$135,000). It also requires media organizations to post an unspecified security deposit against which fines may be charged, which would set a significant barrier to entry for smaller, independent press organizations.

The law also gives the government authority to regulate who can work as an editor, reporter, correspondent, or producer in the country. This authority is susceptible to abuse and infringes on the media's freedom of expression by preventing media outlets from organizing, managing, and operating free from governmental interference, the report says.

These intrusions make a mockery of the notion that an independent media exists in the UAE, Whitson said: The president has the option to send this law back and to show leadership in seeking a law that truly supports a free press.