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Jamie Stewart

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Heads in the sand??? [Mar. 18th, 2009|03:10 pm]
Jamie Stewart
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The media in the Middle East is a strange beast. Staffed by journalists who should be frothing at their couscous-stuffed mouths to bite at autocratic systems of government, but who lack the legal teeth to do so, it is difficult to work out at times just what it's underlying purpose is. Declare your journalistic principles at customs as you enter, and cast your romantic fourth-estate ambitions aside. The powers that be are for the most part yet to allow a second or a third estate. Who said anything about a fourth?

Therefore, consider this blog to be the Middle East's fouth-estate in waiting. I am not going to write anything that cannot be printed in the Middle East, as my plane ticket home would swiftly follow. Consider this instead a record - a celebration, even - of all that is unique about Middle Eastern journalism and life in the rapidly expanding desert metropolis of Dubai.

There's a lot to be said in the city-state where journalists, film stars, politicians, captains of industry, titans of commerce and heads of nations share the same 45km-long strip of sand, whiling away the evenings making polite chit chat on man-made islands in the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf. Being able to say it, however, is not necessarily always the case.

As a means of getting us started and to put what happens to follow in context, consider this report from Arab media commentary site menassat.com  A new media law is soon to be inked within the UAE, which many critics assume to be a reaction to the financial crisis, and the ripple effect on the economies of the seven emirates that constitute the UAE. Among it's purposefully ambiguous statements is Article 33, which "imposes fines of up to US $136,127 for broadly defined breeches such as publishing “misleading” articles "in a manner that harms the country's reputation, foreign relations or obligations or defaces its national identity” or “harms the country’s national economy.”

Not a far removal from the 1980 Publications and Publishing Law. The new draft ruling, however, has replaced the old threats of prison sentences with almighty fines, thus magnifying the spectre of self-censorship that hangs over the threadbare pockets of shuddering UAE journalists, many of whom can barely afford a pen, let alone write anything that may "harm the country's reputation" with one.

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Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2009-04-07 01:21 pm (UTC)

Thanks

Dear Jamie.

Just wanted to thank you for writing about this. I went to Dubai recently to visit some friend and I was feeling sick seeing the conditions of people working there. I am not a writer and I felt utterly powerless and depressed.

Thanks so much for bringing this into the light for thousands of people!
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