According to salary information released through WikiLeaks, journalists in the UAE are paid wages associated more with the Public Relations industry than with newspapers; and that makes sense. When you consider that the UAE ranks 119th out of 180 countries in an index of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders, it would seem that the primary function of media in the UAE is indeed, to serve as a government-sponsored propaganda operation.
It is inconceivable; for instance, that a free press anywhere in the world would remain utterly silent about the disappearance of a member of the ruling family of the country; as the UAE media has done during recent weeks with regard to Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum. Latifa’s harrowing video made before her “escape” from Dubai, leveling serious allegations against her father, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE; was published online and reported across the globe. Latifa subsequently went missing under suspicious and alarming circumstances, and this was also reported internationally. The UAE media not only did not report the story, they published old news pieces about a different Sheikha Latifa in an apparent attempt to deflect public attention from the events.
Freedom House, one of the oldest monitors in the world of press freedom, states in their most recent report on the UAE, “censorship remained a central aspect of the government’s media policies… the Middle East Eye reported that authorities had blocked access to its website, which provides regional news coverage, including critical reporting on the UAE’s domestic and foreign policies.”
Detained in Dubai’s website has been blocked by the UAE for years; preventing expats in the country from seeking legal assistance if they encounter difficulties or suffer unfair treatment, simply because the government does not want even accurate information published that may tarnish the country’s carefully constructed image as a modern, open society.
Reporters who work in the UAE have confided to Detained in Dubai, on condition of anonymity, that they are severely restricted in what and how they report the news. "News is not something any UAE media has a say in. They can suggest stories to the Dubai Government Media Office and ask for approval. If it is approved, every word of the story will be censored to remove any hint of criticism about the UAE, its rulers or institutions’, said one journalist for a local UAE newspaper.”
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, says, “We see an increase in censorship and government control over the media over the past few years, not a decrease. The UAE Cybercrime laws, for example, seem designed specifically to crackdown on any news or commentary deemed to be negative to the UAE’s image. The complete blackout on coverage of Sheikha Latifa just underlines the degree to which the UAE media is under the complete control of the government. We anticipate that, following Detained in Dubai’s efforts to raise awareness of this story, reporters in the UAE, who work essentially as PR agents, will mount an effort to publish defamatory articles about our organisation. We have already learned that some reporters are manufacturing anti ‘Detained in Dubai’ and ‘Stirling Haigh’ stories in retaliation to our public assistance of six human beings who went missing. But the very fact that they can perform investigative journalism against us, but not in the matter of the daughter of the ruler of Dubai, who alleged that she had been tortured, and who went missing, and whose case was reported across the world; in and of itself evidences the fact that the media in UAE operate fundamentally as a propaganda wing of the government.
UAE Cybercrime Laws were so vaguely drafted, perhaps deliberately so, that their application is unpredictable. In detail, the law even provides for prosecution of ‘crimes’ that occurred outside of the country, before its enactment. This means in essence, someone could be convicted for sharing a facebook post in another country, years before they ever visited the Emirates.”
David Haigh said “The UAEs approach to freedom of speech and its cybercrime law breaches numerous international human rights and free speech laws. The UAE attempts to position itself as a free, liberal and tolerant society but the reality sees the UAE jailing its owns citizens, expats and tourists for even a tweet of 140 characters of criticism, or for taking a picture of a flooded road, or a fire. The ease at which the cybercrime law can be misused by the unscrupulous is clear. In my own case I was jailed for 5 months accused of breaching it, until I was ultimately acquitted two years ago this week. During that jailing my opponents, sought to file civil cases after civil case that I could not defend. Dubai was being used as a corporate jail – the world’s first corporate jail.
The United Nations working group of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) met on the earlier this year to review the human rights record of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This review saw hundreds of countries including the USA, criticise the UAE for its lack of freedom of speech and lack of a free civil and political society. Those are the facts and no amount of UAE media spin can change them”.
UAE authorities were notified of Sheikha Latifa's status as missing, days before it was publicly reported. Detained in Dubai sought information as to their safety or in the event the UAE was concerned for their safety, had offered to assist authorities. The UAE did not respond.