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United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates - World Report 2009

69 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 83,600 sq. km.
-  Population: 4,650,000
-  Language: Arabic
-  Head of state: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, since 2004

The press in the United Arab Emirates is as vibrant as the country’s economy, with 11 national dailies, six of them in English and five in Arabic. Most major media have a bureau there, like the BBC, CNN and Agence France-Presse. Foreign journalists are allowed more freedom than in other countries in the region.

But since 2008, debate has centre on a new press law, which if adopted in its present form could constitute a serous setback to press freedom in the country and which the media has raised strong objections to. At the end of lengthy discussions, the national federal council adopted the draft law to replace the 1980 law, on 20 January 2009. It now awaits the signature of the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Although the draft law abolishes prison sentences for journalists and gives them the right to protect their sources of information, it also entails numerous restrictions on press freedom. The government would be able to decide who is able to work as a journalist - editors, reporters and correspondents. It would also have a large measure of control over which media is authorised to work in the country, with the power to suspend licences for newspapers, radio and television, even for minor breaches of the law.

Moreover, the dropping of criminal proceedings against journalists would at the same time mean strengthening of civil proceedings with the risk of incurring heavy fines, hanging a kind of Sword of Damocles over the media. Journalists could be sued for “denigrating” members of the government or the royal family and face fines that could go as high as 5,000,000 dirhams (1,034,000 euros). While those who publish “dishonest” news that could “mislead public opinion” and “harm the country’s economy”, could be sentenced to pay fines of up 500,000 dirhams (103,400 euros).

Also since 2008, The United Arab Emirates has joined Reporters Without Borders’ list of “countries under surveillance” in relation to free expression on the Internet, despite its adoption in 2006 of an electronic press code. The Telecommunications regulatory authority (TRA) has started carrying out excessive filtering to try to control the content of online publications, blocking websites without reason. An Internet user can be imprisoned for “opposition to Islam”, “insult to any religion recognised by the state” or “contravening family values and principles”, under articles 15 and 20 of the law on cybercrime.

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