x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Students and experts mull media problems

The forum heard an example was the arrest, trial, conviction and pardoning of five Emirati political activists last year, which received far more attention from the international media than local outlets.

ABU DHABI // UAE media outlets must stop censoring themselves if local journalism is to progress, speakers and students said as they marked World Press Freedom Day yesterday.

“It limits what journalists can do,” said Afra Al Khazraji, 20, an international affairs student, at a forum at Zayed University (ZU).

“It is a theme here. Some of my friends are looking into journalism but they are not very enthusiastic because of self-censorship.”

Shamma Al Mehairi, a multimedia and international studies student, said journalists resorted to the practice for self-preservation.

“I don’t think we have enough [freedom of speech],” Ms Al Mehairi said. “Society needs to develop more. Writing what you think is a positive thing. We can’t develop without freedom for the press.”

Over the past year, the UAE’s world ranking for press freedom and individual rights has dropped.

The latest Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index, released in January, ranked it 112th of 179 countries. In 2010, the UAE was in the top 100.

The country was also labelled “Not Free” by Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 report, earning the second-worst ranking, on a seven-point scale, for accommodating political rights and civil liberties.

Mishaal Al Gergawi, an Emirati current affairs commentator who spoke at the event, said scant reporting of certain cases reflected poorly on various authorities.

“They don’t have very strong communication about these cases, which allows for a lot of speculation and people fearing or overexaggerating the UAE becoming a police state,” he said.

Mr Al Gergawi bemoaned the shortage of Emirati reporters.

“I can’t think of a single Emirati journalist who actually writes investigative journalism, in Arabic at least,” he said. “There is no shortage of columnists. We are all happy to dole out our opinions but who’s willing to go and dig into a story and risk the wrath?”

The event, organised by ZU students, was attended by Noura Al Kaabi, a member of the FNC and the recently appointed chief executive of the Abu Dhabi media zone twofour54, and Mohamed Al Hammadi, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Al Arabiya.