x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Two years in the making

ABU DHABI // The current UAE media law, dating to 1980, includes 26 articles that imply or specifically refer to the imprisonment of journalists. For that reason it needed to be changed, to reflect developments both in the media and in the country at large, said Ibrahim al Abed, the director general of the National Media Council, the government body that oversees journalists.

"We felt that there were many things in the law that should be changed for the better," he said in an interview. The process of changing the law began in 2007, when the council submitted a proposal to the Cabinet. After review by numerous committees, it was endorsed last month by the Federal National Council and awaits presidential approval. A number of articles in the current law governing what can and cannot be printed were dropped from the revision.

Under the 1980 law, for example, writers who blemish the name of a president of an Arab, Islamic or "friendly" state or affected relations between the UAE and its allies could face up to six months in prison and fines of up to Dh5,000 (US$1,361). The revised law makes no reference to imprisoning journalists. "The country has developed a lot," Mr al Abed said. "The media in the UAE has developed a lot, so these developments should be taken into consideration. The current press law mentions nothing but printed media, another reason it needed to be updated.''

While the revised law now mentions television and radio, there is still no specific reference to the internet. Alexander McNabb, author of the blog Fake Plastic Souks (fakeplasticsouks.blogspot.com), questions why the draft does not include definitions of online media, the fastest growing media sector. "As far as I can see,'' he wrote in his blog, "the law makes no reference to the 'e-world' and remains firmly rooted in the idea that 'the media' is content produced by licensed entities.

"Where does that leave someone writing a blog, commenting on a forum or posting up to You Tube? It leaves us all relatively unsure of quite where we stand, that's where." Mr al Abed said that internet issues may be addressed in the "executive regulations" that will accompany the new law. * The National