Free Media Will Only Help UAE

The continuing debate about a draft media law in the UAE has taken a completely new direction with the US-based rights body, Human Rights Watch, joining the discussion. The rights watch group has come out with a rather strong critique of the draft media law that was passed by the UAE Federal National Council in January and is awaiting the President’s nod. It claims the proposed law restricts free expression and will interfere with the media’s ability to work freely and effectively.

The National Media Council, the UAE’s regulatory authority, responded swiftly and effectively to the criticism of the draft law, issuing a detailed rejoinder within hours of the report.

This is not the first time the HRW has subjected the UAE to its harsh criticism, often seen as exaggerated. The Middle East in general does not exactly have an exemplary record when it comes to media freedom. This is hardly surprising given the general lack of freedom and civil liberties in a region that is still recovering from centuries of colonisation.

But the young nation that is UAE, it has always bucked the regional trend. Just as it has constantly explored new vistas and broken new ground in developing a world-class infrastructure and institutions, it has been exceptionally tolerant of the media as well as other civil liberties. In a region where newspapers and televisions were traditionally owned by the state, it allowed private operators to run their own show three decades ago. This newspaper—just as others—was one of the first to be launched by an individual.

But we are still a young country. It’s a work in progress. We have a long way to go before we can really claim we have achieved globally accepted standards of a free media and other civilian institutions. Of course, we understand that all freedom comes with responsibility. The media cannot operate in vacuum, independent of the country’s values, traditions and social sensitivities. This is something that is not specific to the UAE but applies to media everywhere.

At the same time, it is not possible to dismiss the issues and genuine concerns raised by the media community in the UAE. We would urge the nation’s leaders, who have always demonstrated remarkable political maturity and pragmatism, to take into account these concerns and address them.

In the draft law, there are some clauses that worry the UAE media. They should be cleared for everyone’s benefit. A free media is not an adversary, but an ally of the nation; it will only strengthen the UAE and help it deal with the challenges of a fast changing world.

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