Image via WikipediaPeople occasionally like to talk to me about censorship and seem mildly put out when I tell them that I've never come under any pressure to censor the blog. When this conversation takes place as an interview, I am always credited as being a 'blogger' or an 'ex-journalist'. For some reason media are unwilling to put 'PR guy' as my job title. It would appear to detract from my authority when talking about freedom of expression in media, for some reason. Oh well.
I have had a long acquaintance with censorship in the Middle East, from being banned in Saudi Arabia to being bawled at in Bahrain. I've even survived being shut down in the UAE (In, I have to point out, a previous life: nothing to do with the dear old agency I call home). I have been forced to crawl on the floor picking up copies of my magazine tossed there by Ministry of Information officials and had more than my fair share of uncomfortable meetings with blokes sat behind desks the size of aircraft carriers while I crouched on a chair that's lower than a futon, my nose touching the glass that invariably covered said desk. I all fairness, I must point out that all that stuff happened over fifteen years ago. Life is a lot different now and the pressures of censorship in the Middle East today are a great deal less, believe me.
I started this blog in part because I wanted to show that you can speak your mind in the UAE, in your own name. I have set my own limitations based on my experiences in media here and so yes, I'll decide not to comment on a toxic topic. Living here pays my wages, blogging doesn't. I do believe in respecting the society and culture of the foreign place I call my home.
However, I've been irritated on a few occasions recently where I have encountered an insane degree of censorship in the mainstream media I have worked with that has been derived from expatriates fearing the reaction they are assuming will come from 'up high'. That has even extended to broadcast media refusing to cover stories that are being carried not only globally but also in local news media. When I have pointed out how utterly craven it is to ignore a controversial story that is being carried by other media totally accessible by the target audience and subject to the same regulatory environment, I've been told that I should 'know how it is'.
But I do know how it is. And I know that media that self-censors to that degree is serving neither its audience nor its masters.