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Press boss: freedom has limits

Abdullatif Al Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, publishers of Emirates Today, Al Bayan and Al Emarat Al Youm, told delegates at the GulfMarketing Forum that his journalists had the freedom to write what they wanted – but only within limits.

Abdullatif Al Sayegh, chief executive of Arab Media Group, publishers of Emirates Today, Al Bayan and Al Emarat Al Youm, told delegates at the GulfMarketing Forum that his journalists had the freedom to write what they wanted – but only within limits.

He said: “I think we have it. It’s just that the Government needed to see people who would treat freedom of the press to the advantage of the country. Some people misused and abused the freedom of the press for their own advantage, which is why the government started losing trust.”

He added: “We know how sensitive certain issues are to the country. We’ve got to know how to treat it right and cannot just start tackling anything. When you take words like freedom of the press and start tackling the small issues in the city and you make it a big headline, it’s very upsetting. We have to treat it right.”

And he urged Emiratis to lead the move to a freer press. He said: “No one can push the boundaries of the freedom of the press more than the people of this country itself. We have to lead.”

Earlier this month, the campaigning organisation Reporters Without Borders issued a world league table for freedom of the press. Among Middle East countries, UAE came 100th, while Saudi Arabia was 159th.

Freedom across the region was also tackled by Tim Sebastian, the former presenter of the BBC’s Hard Talk programme. He told the conference: “Freedom of the media is what you go out and grab yourself. I’m not talking about tabloid sensation, I’m talking about sensitive investigation and targeted comment.”

He told the audience, mainly made up of marketing professionals, agency staff and media sales people, rather than journalists: “Press freedom should matter as much to you as it does to me. I know as well as you do that media standards here could be much higher, advertising could be much better quality, the media could be much freer. It’s in your interests for it to be much freer than it is now.

“There is no democracy without freedom of expression. States enhance their credibility by allowing open and independent inquiry. By restricting press freedom, they simply stir resentment of the people. If they have honest intentions, they have honest intentions, they have nothing to fear.”

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