Did @Khaleejtimes break the UAE’s defamation law with the Muwatana video?

And the viral video of the year goes to this amazing clip which was published by the Dubai-based English language daily Khaleej Times yesterday morning. The video is of a heated discussion between a UAE national female with an expatriate Arab female (possibly the Egyptian actress Abeer Sabry) about what the Arab expat is wearing. The discussion, which is only 1 minute 22 seconds long and is mainly in Arabic, is about the Emirati lady’s disagreement with what the expatriate Arab lady is wearing.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of this – there’s the Twitter hashtag #فيديو_المواطنة which tracks the debate – but the video has been a sensation. It was posted at 10am UAE time on the 12th of May, and within 24 hours it has already had over 1.7 million views.

The question is, does this video and its publishing on an open platform break the UAE’s defamation laws? The UAE does not allow for filming of a person without that person’s permission, which I am assuming was not given in this instance. The basics of the UAE’s defamation law are below:

1) It is publicly forbidden to take a picture of another person without their permission.
2) Verbal abuses or gestures (even without the presence of a witness) can also lead to a fine and/or sentence.
3) Defamation via libel (written) or slander (spoken) is dealt by a criminal court as opposed to a civil court, where punishments would only include a monetary fine.

In addition, following the outcry last year about the Ramadan YouTube incident the authorities stated that they would look into online content if it became a matter for ‘public opinion and concern.’ The person who filmed that clip was arrested for defamation and the videos were pulled from YouTube.

The law isn’t clear on what happens when people share content online, but judging by the interest in this video it’s going to be hard to remove the content which has been shared over 24,000 times.

So, the question stands. While there’s a strong possibility that whoever filmed the incident broke the UAE’s defamation law, did the Khaleej Times break the law by posting the video online without the consent of the persons being filmed? Whether yes or no, the muwatana video as it has been named by social media users will become a precedent for other media outlets who are looking to develop their distribution and reach through the use of content shot by their readers and the general public.

And if you haven’t seen the video, here it is below!

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