UAE government should not censor media

Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff Credit: Frances Soong/Art Staff

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), maintaining the integrity of the press comes with a price.

The government of the UAE, the country home to such headlining emirates as Dubai and its more civic-oriented, conservative neighbor Abu Dhabi, is considering legislation that would make it illegal to publicize reports that could damage the country’s economic reputation in any way. In the UAE, the government is a federation through which particular powers are delegated to the federal government and the seven emirates. Dubai is the seemingly untouchable fairyland of tourism, real estate, economic power, and immunity, yet as it is plagued by the world’s economic downturn, journalists are coming under fire.

This drafted media law would make what the government sees as economic libel or slander punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams, or about $272,000 in the United States.

While the emirate’s outlook may not be pretty, or even predictable, it is imperative that freedom and integrity of the press be protected. Moreover, the UAE can only regulate internal media; external journalistic sources — such as this university newspaper — will be able to continue to acknowledge the economic weaknesses and strengths impacting Dubai, largely acknowledged to be the country’s most liberal and economically successful emirate. In this vein, the ban will have limited functionality in protecting the image of the UAE’s economy while causing damage to its international reputation as one of the more liberal Middle Eastern emirates.

Dubai’s image may be that of untouchable and unstoppable growth, but its reputation is not — and the government shouldn’t further tarnish its image by squandering journalistic freedom. Expatriates recently out of work due to economic woes are being hit hard in the region; Dubai has a law that foreigners who lose their work visas must leave the country within one month of doing so, which is causing a widespread frenzy in the increasingly empty global city. These out-of-work expatriates came to Dubai looking for successful lives of splendor and instead found lives of squalor due to the poor economy. This scenario, however, tarnishes Dubai’s perfect image, and it is stories like these that the government in the UAE hopes to censor.

Some journalists and economists theorize that the UAE’s government, based in Abu Dhabi, is attempting to centralize the government and to downplay — and possibly eliminate — the liberal policies of Dubai in comparison to the rest of the country and Gulf region, and that it is restricting journalistic freedom as part of this centralization. Whatever the cause, though, Dubai must ensure that this policy is reversed. As intimidating as it may be to admit that Dubai — the seemingly protected city of upper-tier commerce and elite tourism — is also affected by the global recession, the UAE cannot hide behind the typically restrictive journalistic policies of the region.

On the other side of the spectrum of freedom of expression, however, is Carnegie Mellon, which is the first of the top 25 American universities to receive a green-light rating in free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). In FIRE’s The Torch, Samantha Harris explained in a Feb. 3 article titled “The State of Free Speech on Campus: Carnegie Mellon University” that, while there is still room for improvement in several of the university’s policies, FIRE “found no policies that seriously imperil student speech on campus.”

While this university is by no means on the same scale as the internationally recognized city of Dubai, and its population is not affected by the economic downturn as extremely as are Dubai’s recently out-of-work expatriates, we are happy that Carnegie Mellon respects the freedom of speech, unlike the government of the UAE. We hope the university’s protection of free speech will extend to our campus in Qatar, and that students writing for the All-Around, the Doha campus’s student newspaper, are spared from the looming ban.