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UAE president suspends implementation of worrying media law, panel to study bill

UAE president suspends implementation of worrying media law, panel to study bill

The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifah Bin Zayid Al-Nahyan, has suspended implementation of a media law which was adopted last month by the National Council, described by press freedom groups as worrying. The president intends to set up a special commission to carry out an exhaustive study of the law, taking account of opinion in the UAE, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

“The Gulf is often seen as one of the Middle Eastern regions where respect for freedom of speech and publication is developing best, and the United Arab Emirates had contributed to this by, for example, adopting an electronic media law drafted by regional Internet actors,” RSF secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, wrote last month in a letter to Mohammed Abdullah Al Gargawi, the minister of state for cabinet affairs, who is responsible for the bill.“But the proposed reform of the press law gives the opposite impression.

“The decision to scrap prison sentences for journalists, announced in June, is a step in the right direction and we think the UAE should continue down this road. RSF therefore urges you to reduce the size of the fines and to restrict the powers of both the National Media Council and the courts to punish the media," Juilliard wrote.

The changes in several of the bill’s articles since it was last examined by ministers in June 2008 increased RSF's concern about press freedom in the UAE. For example, the highest proposed fines used to be 200,000 dirhams. But article 31 proposed a fine of 1 million dirhams for anyone who insults the president, vice-president or a member of the Supreme Council of Rulers through the news media or a licensed publication.

In article 27, it was said for the first time that cities located in the UAE’s free zones must also obey the press laws and the rules established by the National Media Council, which has the power to suspend the activity of certain media outlets for an indefinite period (article 36). These zones were not concerned before the bill was redrafted.

Article 3 said licensed communication media may not be subjected to monitoring prior to publication. But article 21 said printers must comply with the council’s rules and must send a certain number of copies of each issue to the council or an entity designated by the council. "The bill’s current wording makes it hard to understand what is intended. Also, article 21 does not specify whether the copies must be delivered before or after publication," RSF had said.

The bill to amend the press law was submitted to the government for the first time in November 2007. While RSF welcomed the proposed decriminalisation of press offences, the main problem for free expression continued to be the self-censorship practised by most of the country’s newspapers. To avoid lawsuits, the media usually refrain from any comment or criticism that could be interpreted as harming the government’s image.

Date posted: February 13, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 627