ABU DHABI // A national media law will clear up many concerns expressed by FNC members about the industry, the head of the National Media Council said yesterday.
In a four-hour debate with council members, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said the new law that was being worked on would help to regulate the media sector.
Hamad Al Rahoomi (Dubai) said the UAE was ranked 158th out of 196 countries in media freedom of expression and speech, and not imprisoning journalists. He asked how the that ranking could be improved.
Sheikh Abdullah, also Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the media law would help.
“This ranking is based on the law, not practice,” he said. “After this law is passed the country ranking will improve.”
Rashad Bukhash (Dubai) said the NMC was not providing enough coordination with media outlets, while other members complained there was no control over media outlets in the free zones.
But Sheikh Abdullah said it was unclear whether the council wanted more or less control over media.
Some members asked for more supervision of content; others said the media should be helped to flourish.
“I think we are talking about two things: less government control over the media, and more government control over the media,” said Sheikh Abdullah. “I ask the council, what is wanted from the NMC?”
The speaker, Mohammed Al Murr, said the council wanted to strike a balance between control and freedom.
Some members, including Ahmed Al Mansouri (Dubai), said he was frustrated about messages coming from the media. Other members accused the media of promoting stereotypes.
“There must be a balance, there is no monitor,” Ahmed Al Shamsi (Ajman) said. “Some developed countries have laws on media.”
Sheikh Abdullah said the NMC was reviewing the media law, adding that with media freedom came responsibility.
Mr Al Shamsi insisted the way foreign media put its message across needed to be reviewed. But that, Sheikh Abdullah said, was not in the NMC’s mandate.
“I do not believe the responsibility of the NMC is to hold media outlets to account for their messages,” he said. “Media outlets transfer messages.”
It was not possible to punish a media outlet for passing on what someone had said if it did not breach the country’s laws, Sheikh Abdullah said.
“I think we are in front of a big problem to know how to deal with media,” he said.
He said it was contradictory to want media freedom, relaxed licensing and a more developed media and then to demand constraints.
“Not only constraints, but real barriers,” he said.
Afra Al Basti (Dubai) said foreign-produced content should be monitored, adding that The New York Times, The Washington Post and Wikipedia all gave an inaccurate impression of the UAE’s human-rights record.
Explicit stories from the courts about what “expats do on our beaches”, and what “Emiratis do to their maids” did not help, Ms Al Basti said.
Sheikh Abdullah blamed this on the slow progress of some court cases and a “no comment” from the courts.
“This puts us [the NMC] in a bad position to try to explain these issues,” he said.
He stressed the need for government spokespeople to provide timely, accurate information.
“I go back and say again the best way to fight these [misrepresentations] is to provide the right information at the right time and right way,” Sheikh Abdullah said.
“Having a spokesperson will, of course, solve this to a great extent.”
He said he believed the FNC could do more to deal with the media.
“Their voice is heard … and expresses current stance and achievements of the UAE,” he said.
Council members agreed. Mosabeh Al Kitbi (Sharjah) said a spokesperson would help to refute rumours.
Sheikh Abdullah said the NMC would look into this with “all seriousness” and raise the proposal to the Government.
He agreed on other proposals from the council, including ways to maintain the anonymity of children who had been the victims of crime.