Freedom still a burning issue for journalists in the UAE

Publications in the UAE risk falling foul of the authorities because nobody knows where the limits of freedom are, the ITP forum heard.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  September 25, 2005

Publications in the UAE risk falling foul of the authorities because nobody knows where the limits of freedom are, the ITP forum heard. Alexander McNabb, boss of Spot On PR, said: “We want to see a free and open media. But we’ve seen some journalists crossing the line and the reaction has been quite dramatic. Where is the line?” He was backed by Philippe Giorgiou, regional MD of Promoseven PR, who said: “People know what they can and cannot write deep inside. Is there a line? Yes there is a line. But I think it is a shifting line. I think the line is travelling towards freedom.” However, Eddie O’Sullivan, editorial director of the Middle East Economic Digest, claimed there was no problem. He said: “There is no line any more. There was a UAE press law, but that has gone and the federal government has to be applauded for the confidence to do that.” Anil Bhoyrul, former editor of Arabian Business, complained that the truth does not always get out, citing the example of a construction accident at the airport in Dubai where the details were never released. Mohammed Al Mulla, director of DMC, said journalists do get to hear what is going on. He said: “The story always comes out.” But he urged journalists not to criticise the UAE way of life. “Please respect people’s culture and religion. These are basic fundamentals,” he said. At the end of the day, forum chairman Andrew Neil urged UAE-based journalists to continue to push for more freedom, but to do so gently. He said: “Take the odd risk, of course, and push at the edge, annoy the occasional important person. But it will nevertheless be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

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