Dubai wants to be a regional and international service centre for the media, competing with two other such centres in Egypt and Jordan. Reuters, Zen TV and Middle East Business News and others have set up shop in Dubai’s Media City, which in theory provides a tax-free environment and freedom of expression. Dubai’s large international airport is an added attraction for foreign media.
In April 2002, the Arab satellite TV station Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), after a decade in London, completed a move to Media City. Its chief, Ali Al-Hudaithi, said it was not just a change of location but also a technological leap and a cost reduction of nearly 30 per cent in the first year and more after that.
The UAE constitution guarantees press freedom but the content and editorial line of newspapers is still strictly controlled. The foreign press is censored before going on sale. The written media, officially private companies, are in fact subsidised by the government. A 1998 law requires all publications to register with the authorities and lists the topics they are allowed to handle. Journalists censor what they write about domestic matters, the royal families, religion and relations with neighbouring countries.
Two journalists physically attacked
Reporter Abdelhay Mohamed and photographer Mohamed Omran Shahed, of the daily paper Al-Ittihad, were attacked on 24 December by two employees of a construction firm. Several dozen Egyptian immigrant labourers had complained to the paper about their living and working conditions, saying they had no contracts, had not been paid for a long time and were forced to live in tiny rooms.
The paper sent the two journalists to investigate. While they were taking photos of the cramped living quarters, two of the firm’s employees attacked them, tearing up the reporter’s notebook and smashing the photographer’s camera. The national journalists’ association denounced the incident on 26 December as an attack on press freedom.