Monday, 30 June 2008


The weighty tome that is Gulf News landed with more than the usual 'thud' this morning - and not because of yet another massive property supplement crammed with vacuous, mind-numbing calls to experience an iconic lifestyle and the rest of it. Oh no. it was because the news was heavier than usual: the UAE's new publication law is in draft and now being put in front of the Cabinet following its approval by the ministerial legislative committee.

The news also outlines the fines that will be imposed under the new legislation. Sadly, GN's report omits a rather important zero...

GN's headline trumpets that the law will scrap the jail term for journalists. However, it would appear from the report itself, that the law continues the practice of potentially criminalising the practice of journalism, rather than building a legal framework for recourse on behalf of companies or individuals who believe that journalism has served them ill.

The distinction is an important one. It means cases will continue to be brought against journalists by the state rather than by individual or corporate litigants. In other words, the state would continue to hold journalists and their newspapers responsible for adherence to a law that limits the practice of journalism and that imposes a range of measures against them if the state judges them to be in breach of the law.

The maximum fine, according to GN, will be Dhs 100,000 or just a tad over $27,000. Which ain't too bad. However, according to front page stories in the Arabics, including Al Bayan and Al Ittihad, the fines will range from Dhs 100,000 to Dhs 1,000,000 - $270,000. For those who are worrying about inflation, that's a ten-fold increase from the previous publishing law.

Another interesting detail that GN gives is that the new law will hold the journalist and the newspaper accountable, rather than (as previously) the journalist and the, necessarily UAE National, editor in chief.

More details on the long awaited legislation will now, hopefully, start to emerge. But I can't say it looks good so far.

What, if anything, awaits bloggers in the new legislation is another issue entirely. But I'm not sure that many of us have a million dirhams in loose change kicking around...

If you extend the definition of journalists to encompass bloggers (and don't think for a second that the courts here wouldn't do that), it also would tend to suggest that Google and Wordpress ('the newspaper' if bloggers are 'the journalist') had probably better make sure they have some ready cash lying around, too...

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