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New UAE media law could threaten reporting on migrant abuses

On April 15, 2009

A proposed law in the UAE could severely curtail press freedom, making it a criminal offence for the media to 'knowingly damange' the country's reputation. The law has been suggested in response to a slew of criticism that the UAE has faced over recent corporate scandals and the fallout of the global economic crisis, which has hit Dubai particularly hard. However, this could severly impact on the reporting of issues that the country generally prefers to keep out of the public gaze, such as the abuses of migrant workers in the the UAE's struggling construction sector.

Human Rights watch has criticised the new law, as it will restrict freedom of speech and will reinforce the state's control of the media, according to this article in the FT.

“The law will muzzle the press, preventing honest reporting about the country’s continuing financial crisis or about its rulers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Its vague clauses and harsh fines will almost guarantee arbitrariness by government authorities and self-censorship by the media.”

If the law is passed, media organisations found to have 'disparaged' the royal family or government officials will face a fine of up to US$1.35 million, while those who are found to have 'harmed' the economy will be fined $135,000.