x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Journalists Association calls for press freedom

Journalists observed the first UAE Press Freedom Day at a majlis with a call for more openness in the media and further legal protection for reporters and editors.

Mohammed Youssef, the head of the UAE Journalists Association, gestures during the majlis at the Dubai Press Club, which was held on the first observance of UAE Press Freedom Day.
Mohammed Youssef, the head of the UAE Journalists Association, gestures during the majlis at the Dubai Press Club, which was held on the first observance of UAE Press Freedom Day.

DUBAI // Journalists observed the first UAE Press Freedom Day at a majlis last night with a call for more openness in the media and further legal protection for reporters and editors. Mohammed Youssef, the head of the UAE Journalists Association, said there was growing acceptance by government officials and businesses that the media need to be free, but that there was a long way to go before journalists could get the same access to information as their counterparts in other parts of the world.

"Things are improving; people realise now that if they do not tell the truth and give journalists the information they need, there is more chance of inaccurate rumours appearing on the internet," Mr Youssef said before the majlis. "When people are looking for information about the UAE, if they do not find it here, they will find it on Reuters or Bloomberg in London or New York, so it does not make sense to keep things hidden from the press in this country."

"Still, we are not given information on a silver plate. We have to fight for it. In some ways it is harder now because more government departments are using PR firms, so you are passed on to someone who knows nothing about the topic. "It still takes too long to get information, but I think now if a journalist has information that he knows is 100 per cent correct, it is easier for him to print the story without waiting for weeks. That makes people more willing to talk, and if they will not talk before you do the story, they will give a response the day after you print it."

On Sept 25 last year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, in his capacity as UAE prime minister, said journalists should not be threatened with imprisonment for doing their jobs. The Journalists Association designated the date as UAE Press Freedom Day. During the majlis, Mr Youssef said that to his knowledge, no journalists had been arrested or taken to court since. However, he warned that journalists still needed to exercise caution as newspapers can be still be reprimanded for printing incorrect or libellous information.

The majlis, which was also attended by Abdul Hamid Ahmad, editor in chief of Gulf News, and Abdul Hamid al Kumati, a legal consultant to the UAE Journalists Association, also discussed the proposed revision of the UAE media law. Mr Ahmad said at the meeting the authorities had been "more civilised" in dealing with complaints against journalists since Sheikh Mohammed's proclamation last year that said reform of the media law was essential.

Reports on the draft of the new law suggested that its authors ignored many of the suggestions made by journalists, Mr Youssef said, speaking before the majlis. As an example, he said he understood that in the draft law, "if a journalist is to be taken to court, it is still to the criminal court, not the civil courts as we have asked for". gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae