Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Free Press?

I don't actually consider myself to be a member of the Press, but it is fairly obvious that publishing a blog is no different from any other form of publishing, and should be subject to the same laws and regulations that govern what can and cannot be said in a public forum.

Today is International Press Freedom Day, and Gulf News have devoted a fair chunk of articles to that topic. They highlight the fact that since the establishment of Media City four years ago, Sheikh Mohammed (the boss) has made many speeches encouraging the Press to exercise its freedom. But GN points out that the media are still covered by the outdated Press and Publishing Law, and, whatever Sheikh Mohammed says, the law is what counts in court. So there is a huge element of self-censorship.

I must admit I am always on my guard about what I write in this blog. I have had experiences in this country that would astonish you, but I will not write about them until I get a personal letter from Sheikh Mohammed saying it's ok. I frequently find myself in a tizz in the mornings, having published something that may come across as overly-critical or true but not acceptable. I did it yesterday in the piece about the Codeine case . I deleted a paragraph that mentioned human rights, lack thereof. I happen to think that what I said was true, but I have no desire to endanger myself or my family.

And you're sitting there, safe in your Western country. You might read the Gulf News stories on their website, and notice that there is no mention of any journo's getting into trouble in the UAE. And that's where the self-censorship comes in again. I know of 3 or 4 cases of media people in the UAE who have got themselves into hot water over things they had written or broadcast. Admittedly these are all from more than five years ago, so maybe things really have changed. But we all have nice lives here and we do not want to put them at risk.

So until we get a change in the Federal Law that says 'you can say whatever you want as long as you can prove it is true (in the case of suspected defamation) and it does not contravene the religious and moral traditions of the country', I will, sadly, be self-censoring like crazy.

And sometime soon I'll publish some uplifting articles about how great living in this place is,