Image via WikipediaThis is a depressing column from Abdullah Rasheed, Gulf News' Abu Dhabi editor, today, written on the occasion of the much-delayed debate by the Federal National Council regarding the new Media Law for the UAE. I sincerely believe that Rasheed's words are required reading for anyone living here.
In it, he argues that media freedom has decreased in the UAE and calls for an end to the culture of censorship and silence in response to media that has become so common recently. "journalists battle to get even the simplest information due to non-co-operation of most official bodies" he says.
He points out that the number of UAE National journalists has dropped. And he points to a wide range of other major issues that are contributing to producing a national media that is uncompetitive. That international news sources and the Internet are sought as alternatives by those who feel un-served by the media. "Journalists are no longer doing their duty, meaning that the press is no longer monitoring the peformance of government."
The one point he doesn't make is that media struggling with all these issues are not challenging organisations in the UAE to respond as harshly as they could (and should) be - and the result of that is there is no culture of debate, argument or managing investigative media. You could well argue that a great deal of the negative international coverage has come about because of the inept way in which UAE organisations manage their relationships with international media - precisely because, of course, the counter-critical culture of the UAE is not mirrored elsewhere. To their surprise, UAE 'press officers', and the people they report to, discover all too late that journalists working for international media who are fobbed off or simply told 'there is nothing here' won't stand for it and will not only report, but do so with considerable vigour, too. Worse, they're being aided and abetted by social media. A leaky shark tank is not a minor problem with a malfunctioning valve when consumer-generated footage of an entire mall underwater is out there in the wild, for instance.
Decent spokespeople, sound media policies and sensible media relations can't develop in the absence of an empowered media. Those skills are critical, IMHO, to the future of the UAE as a player on the world stage - and so is a media that is allowed to get on with the job of reporting the facts in service of its readers, listeners and viewers.