Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Silence! I kill you!

Pre-Press Page from the "Noticias da Amad...Image via Wikipedia
People 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.
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Seabee said...

IMO Alex, self censorship here is far more draconian than official censorship.

the real nick said...

Alexander, I am not surprised at your blog not being blocked or censored.
The reason is not that the mindest in the UAE has changed. As far as I can tell it's the same arrogant nincompoops strategically placed at various ministries that were there ten years ago.

The reason is that you tread a fine line and generally limit yourself (or maybe I wilfully misunderstand Seabee's insinuation above) to non contentious issues and rarely, if ever, dig deep like Secretdubai did - who was not afraid to call a spade a spade, and names.

Other bloggers,like the prolific Seabee, limit themselves to being prolific with rants about traffic signs or the lack thereof,cracked tiles, bad grammar in newspaper articles and halfbaked PR campaigns.

Ultimately we (disenfranchised) expats become like this: either grumpy old cynics or resigned and mock-outraged windbags; very much like those little old Ladies in tearooms huffing and hissing about bad manners or the weather.

the real nick said...

*the mindset in the UAE...*

Dubai Jazz said...

Perhaps unlike others, bloggers like me have to keep in mind two points of references; the UAE and where they come from. Self-censorship is inevitable. I value and understand Alexander’s preference for blogging under his real name, but, as far as I’m concerned, getting the message across is more important than getting credit for it. And hence, my blogging under an alias. (and even then, one would have to tread carefully)

Keefieboy said...

I can't begin to tell you how glad I was to get out of the UAE and not have to censor myself anymore.

Anonymous said...

Is it all self-censorship? Maybe it is in radio, who knows. But there are 'guidelines' as to what is acceptable and what is not. And when you cross the line you are told.

With all due respect, most blogs are not considered even remotely important enough to come onto the radar of those who 'make the phone calls'.

the audiences are too low in general. BUT if you consistently attack the government, expose things that have really happened or directly criticise people in power then you will be on the radar.

No bloggers (other than Secret Dubai) really do that do they. Is that not self-censorship?

Ghassan Yonis said...

I can't say that much about the UAE, simply because I don't know it that much. But here in Jordan, most censorship on online content comes from the people not the government. Governments who have a strong grip on the main-stream media and educational system (which is the case of most Arab countries) have brain-washed the people (often, young educated people) since school days, that they had them doing their job for them willingly.

Plus, when it comes to philosophical topics or social liberties, you can always thank Islam for that.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

KUDOS!!!! I honestly am not sure if my blog "Dead American Dream" would be allowed in the UAE. Would I get censored with my short stories about sex, religious hypocrisy, and violence? I wonder that.

but I admire you for still maintaining a very popular blog and speaking out.

alexander... said...

Well, Sabs, thanks for the kudos but as Nick points out, I hardly run pell-mell at hyper-criticism or mad insulting rants.

It's a measured little blog, this, generally.

Your stuff would last here for about 1.3 picoseconds, I reckon. Shame, because it would liven the place up a bit! :)

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Isn't our imagination the greatest censor/restrictor of our actions, in all locations?

Seabee said...

Nick no, it wasn't an insinuation, I was really talking about the mainstream media, as was Alex.

As for my rants, they're mainly about the things I bump into on a daily basis that frustrate the hell out of me. I do criticise other things which I think need changing, such as ridiculous laws, which come to my attention.

But I don't have access to information in the way that a journalist would, and I certainly wouldn't do as SD did and make unsubstantiated accusations about people. We all have to be aware of libel laws too.

HE said...

Interesting, I was just reading an article yesterday about how the UAE is on the "under surveillance" list for becoming the "“worst violators of freedom of expression on the net” next year. Funny you mention Bahrain, its also "under surveillance",

I bet you can name the countries who made the list this year without reading the report,

Anyhow, here it is;


Oussama said...

Great post, but I agree with Seabee, self censorship is probably worse than the official one. As you sai we all earn our living here and we are all conscious of consequences. We voluntarily walk away from controversy. It happened in the USA after the Northwest almost bomber in Detroit at Christmas. The TSA came on heavy on 2 bloggers but then backed off. In the interim we all slowed down while waiting for the outcome. There is censorship in all countries in some form or the other, the difference is in here there are no rules and no recourse.

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