Media tribunal awaits first case

A tribunal established more than two years ago by Dubai Media City to adjudicate on how print and broadcast media manages issues such as freedom of expression, privacy and fairness, has not yet been consulted.

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By  Tim Addington Published  March 26, 2006

A tribunal established more than two years ago by Dubai Media City to adjudicate on how print and broadcast media manages issues such as freedom of expression, privacy and fairness, has not yet been consulted. Despite being established in November 2003 by the free zone, the Broadcasting and Publication Standards Tribunal (BPST) has not had a case referred to it by either officials, or broadcasters and publishers working within in the media hub. During a meeting at DMC’s office this week for its business partners, only one of around 50 people present said they had previously heard of the BPST. Jonathan Caplan QC, one of the tribunal’s two international representatives, told the meeting: “To date the tribunal has not sat to hear any case. Awareness of the tribunal is clearly a matter that needs addressing. I hope that one of the consequences of today is that awareness will be increased.” In addition to the two international lawyers, the tribunal also includes five Dubai-based lawyers who are experienced in dealing with media cases. Free zone broadcasters and publishers wanting clarification on potentially sensitive issues can use the tribunal for adjudication. The zone itself can also refer cases to it. The adjudications are based on regulations and codes of guidance that are modelled on international best practice. Issues covered in the code include religious sensibilities, drugs, violence, alcohol, smoking and sex. Any advice it offers can be accepted or rejected by the authorities. Chairman of the BPST, retired British judge Sir Brian Neill, said: “What we would be seeking to do is uphold standards of freedom of expression. We hope in future, if people know we exist, that we will fulfil a useful role. We envisaged that the tribunal would be asked to give rulings. In fact, that hasn’t happened. We are anxious to get things going.” Dr Amina Al Rustamani, executive director of media for the free zone, said she wanted to see more Media City companies using the tribunal. “What I see in the future, what I want to see happening, is people really challenging what we mean by freedom of expression and using the standards tribunal to do so.” Asked what ruling the tribunal would make if a DMC publisher wanted to reprint the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Caplan pointed out that in the code of conduct a passage referred to religious sensibilities. He said: “I imagine that the tribunal would pay attention to that paragraph in particular.”

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