Despite what you’ve been led to believe, there are lots of mischief makers in the Gulf – there’s even a handful in the United Arab Emirates. These naysayers were online last month and poking fun at the chief of the largest satellite broadcast group in the region, the Middle East Broadcasting Group, after he announced that Dubai offers “complete press freedom”.
Sheikh Waleed Al Ibrahim, chairman of MBC Group, told journalists at the Arab Media Forum that the Emirate offered complete press freedom in a region where the media is heavily regulated by government. To quote from Arabian Business.
“We launched the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) Group as a pan-Arab media in 1991 in London – to be able to exercise freedom of the press – as most Arab countries were not open to the idea of press freedom.”
“It was an uphill task initially. However, we remained committed to develop quality contents for the Middle East audiences. We tried to enter Egypt and the government did not let us enter to protect the local television channels. However, when an invitation came from Dubai, we started to engage with Dubai government. Initially, I was reluctant to relocate as we might have to compromise on the content – fearing that we might become subject to censorship and interference. Since then, we were never asked by the government how we run our business and why we do what we do. There has been no government interference on our programme.”
So far, so good. But, as pointed out by comments underneath the Arabian Business article the New York Times was pulled from the publishing presses in the UAE by its local, government-owned partner due to an article printed in the newspaper on labour rights at New York University Abu Dhabi.
While Al Ibrahim’s comments may be spot on, the timing of the New York University Abu Dhabi controversy and the halting of the printing of the New York Times said much more than Al Ibrahim’s comments. Actions do speak louder than words, and despite Al Ibrahim’s best intentions his words were undone by a decision which underlines how much press freedom we have in the region.