Image via WikipediaThe news broke online yesterday that Dubai Municipality was to invoke a 2003 regulation banning the use of alcohol in food preparation across the city's licensed premises. Arabian Business, drawing from sister title Hotelier Middle East, got a nice little scoop in there.
Interestingly, the news ran today in The National, Khaleej Times and 7Days but not in Gulf News or Emirates Business 24x7. You'd have thought there'd be consensus that the story was of interest to the readership - both to those who drink and those who don't.
It's an area where the UAE has long struggled to reconcile pragmatism with public opinion. Advertising alcoholic products has always been banned in media here, with exceptions generally made for 'closed community' publications (for instance, a golf club newsletter). Reference to alcohol in radio or television advertising is generally confined to euphemisms such as the awful 'beverages', 'bubbly' or 'a glass of red'. The practice of using these terms editorially rather than the actual names of alcoholic drinks has become rather blurry of late, things had tended to slip and publications were actually using words like wine and beer. Back in days of yore, that would never have been tolerated, incidentally, and we'd have been hauled off down the Ministry for a wee chat at the very least.
According to the reports, the Municipality has stated the ban is partly a result of customer complaints regarding the abuse of the long-standing practice of flagging up dishes in a menu as containing alcohol. It has also stated that it had found this practice being abused in its own inspections - although it's slightly strange, is it not, that we didn't hear action taken against specific establishments who did this.
Arabian Business and The National are the only two titles that mention the fact that the city's horrified chefs have gone back to the Municipality and sought a more lenient step than a total ban. A final decision is expected Tuesday.
However, this latest move once again highlights a depressing pattern of behaviour. If officials had consulted with representatives of the hospitality industry - a vital sector to Dubai - then the importance of the decision to that industry could have been made clear to them before any announcement was made or circular issued. They could even, shock horror, have worked with the industry to find a way of ensuring any abuse of longstanding practice did not take place. Instead, we now have a period of uncertainty, patchy communication and lack of clarity regarding a seemingly draconian decision that will affect many of us - and a decision that will, once again, doubtless play badly in international media.
It's, as always, all about the public relations. PR isn't about 'spinning' bad news or burying stories, hyperbole and relentless feelgood 'messaging' - it's about communication, ensuring that you say what you want to say, clearly and effectively to the right people at the right time and in the right way. It's also a two-way street - you've got to listen to people before you communicate, ensure you understand the environment in which you are operating and shape your communication based on what it is you believe you want to achieve - the objective. The lack of listening or any attempt at consultation merely plays in public as arrogance and the inevitable 'clarification' just wastes time and resources.
We'll have to wait until Tuesday to see what's going to be the final word on this one, but in the meantime you're welcomed to a new bizarre twist to Dubai's attempt to define a course acceptable to all - you can have a glass with it, but not in it. You can have that glass in a hotel but be arrested and fined for having had it.
The glass is looking increasingly half-empty, is it not?