#MeToo and the Middle East’s media sector – what changed?

We’re a couple of days out from International Women’s Day, the time of year when we all look to gender equality. But I want to get the conversation started now, and on a different issue. A couple of events have gotten me thinking about the issue how women are treated in the media and marketing sectors in our region.

The first was a very brave article by former journalist Reem Abdellatif. Reem is no longer based in the Gulf (and I’ll get to why this is important in a minute) and she penned an op-ed on sexual harassment and assault for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper (if you’re not subscribed to Haaretz, you should be – often the reporting on the Gulf is better than what you’ll see from newspapers in the Gulf).

Reem’s piece is both general and personal, and Reem details her own stories of abuse. Chillingly, she describes one experience of an uninvited sexual proposition by a journalist in Dubai. It’s a story I feel many women here will be able to relate to. I’m sharing a specific piece from that story below.

Some of you may have noticed that I referred to Reem as having been based in the Gulf. She wouldn’t have been able to publish this account if she were still based here. And no media outlet would carry it, even if she weren’t based here. This is due to the region’s defamation laws, which are criminal offenses. And that brings me to my second reminder. Which I can’t even talk about, despite the seriousness of the sexual harassment allegations being made and the fact that everyone would know the organization.

And that for me is the core of the issue. In the Gulf, we can’t talk about sexual harassment, except in broad brushstrokes which have less meaning. The perpetrators get off, scot free, with little impact on their careers or their reputations. While the victims have to live with the abuse for the remainder of their lives.

If the media and marketing industry is serious about tackling gender equality, they’ve got to start with this. And that doesn’t mean making a statement about the issue of gender equality in the company, talking about the need for purpose in communications or bringing in a female head for a couple of years. Rather, it means rooting out the issue of abuse and harassment. What we have to do must include:

  • Trainings on sexual harassment and gender bias at the workplace, for all staff (most especially management);
  • Proper investigations into sexual harassment allegations, including with the authorities – these are criminal offenses, and should be treated as such, and
  • Anyone found guilty of sexual harassment should be blacklisted from agency groups, and future employers should specifically ask about this question when asking for references.

These are the basic steps the industry must take to address the issue. For all the talk about equality and opportunity, if women don’t feel safe in our industry then we’re not going to make any progress on these other issues. Who’s with me?

The Fire, the Selfie and Prison – why you should care about what your friends say online

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

We all do stupid things, and we unfortunately then post these acts of idiocy online. Combine that with a situation like we had during New Year’s Eve, and you’ve got a situation that could at best be described as combustible.

As the flames ravaged Dubai’s The Address Hotel on New Year’s Eve, some people decided to take selfies. A few posted these selfies online, to Instagram and Facebook. At least two people, two young men, were arrested for their selfie (pictured above) while the Emirate’s Public Prosecution investigated their case.

There’s been much speculation online as to why the men were arrested, with many commentators arguing that the action defamed the country and its image – let’s remember that defamation is a criminal offense in the Gulf, with a minimum fine of 500,000 Dirhams and jail time in the UAE (as well as deportation for expatriates). Many have posted selfies at the same location, with smiles, grins and laughs, and such expressions of emotion may have been considered a case of schadenfreude by the authorities.

However, according to the English-language newspaper 7Days which spoke to the lawyer of the two accused, they were investigated not for the image per se, but rather for the comments made about the image. The argument goes that the person who posts content is also responsible for the comments on that post, even if those comments are not written by the same person but his or her friends, family (or anyone who wants to get you jailed).

Luckily for them, the two were released from prison after a couple of days with no charge after investigators found that there was “no evidence of criminal intent”. However, remember that in future it’s not just your stupidity that could land you in jail, but that of your online contacts as well. Their comments could cross the legal line of what is defined as defamation, so don’t post images or any other type of post that could get you into trouble. Just don’t…

McDonalds Saudi and the Saudi national who was arrested – a lesson in virality and crisis comms

Last week Saudi’s social media space was alive with chatter and calls for a boycott. But this wasn’t for a global cause, a political issue, or a case of consumer activism. It wasn’t even about the color of a dress or the shenanigans of a Kardashian. Instead, it was about a Saudi national who tweeted a complaint about the drink he’d been served at a McDonalds restaurant and the rapidly escalating series of events which got him put in jail.

I’m going to try to keep this story as simple as possible for factual reasons.

A young Saudi national Abdulrahman bin Jumah was at a McDonalds outlet in Jeddah on the 19th of October and ordered a meal, which included a coke. Inside the cup, he claimed he found a cockroach. He then shared the image on social media to his followers (which I assume would have been less than the 3,216 followers he has now). As Abdulrahman deleted his Tweets, here’s an alleged image from another Saudi Twitter account who retweeted the Tweet.

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

Abdulrahman tweeted his experience and contacted the local municipality online at their Twitter account @JeddahAmanah. The municipality took swift action and closed the branch in question the day after on the 20th.

Simple enough? You’d think so (and restaurant closures are a fairly common occurrence in Saudi as you can see from this tweet announcing the closure of a KFC outlet in Jeddah. I cannot comment as to whether a restaurant closure would be common for McDonalds Saudi).

After a day however (I’m assuming here the 21st), the branch reopened and Abdulrahman tweeted his thoughts on the issue, namely that he was surprised that the branch could open so soon, and that he wasn’t looking for compensation but rather an apology for the experience. Again, these are screen shots as the original tweets were deleted.

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Now this is where it gets murky as later on in the day Abdulrahman was accused of defamation by McDonalds Saudi Arabia. He tweeted his experiences as he was first accused of defamation…

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds Saudi had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

And then arrested by the police. Defamation is a criminal rather than a civil offense in Saudi Arabia. After the below tweet Abdulrahman’s timeline supposedly goes quiet.

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

On the 22nd Abdulrahman tweeted an apology, four times, writing that the bug was not in the cup and that he was sorry for using social media when making the allegations against McDonalds Saudi. The second time he used two hashtags, McDonalds arrests the national and we are all Abdulrahman Jumah (ماكدونالدز_تعاقب_مواطن #كلنا_عبدالرحمن_جمعه#)

McDonalds Saudi also put out a statement online in response to many in Saudi who have come out to ask about the allegations or who have supported Abdulrahman stating that the case was caused by an intention to gain financially from the allegation that he’d made and that, following the apology, McDonalds Saudi had dropped the case.

McDonalds issued a statement

McDonalds issued a statement that the allegation was false and the case is now closed

Abdulrahman deleted all of the story’s tweets, except those in which he makes an apology.

Without knowing the facts in the case, it’s hard to know what really happened. Did Abdulrahman really find a cockroach in his drink or was it a case of extortion? However, Saudis on Twitter have not been kind to McDonalds Saudi and their involvement of the police. The hashtags used by Jumah are replete with angry responses to McDonalds Saudi. The case has also made the national media, albeit indirectly.

Makkah Daily's Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds for their actions

Makkah Daily’s Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds Saudi for their actions

McDonalds Saudi certainly acted quickly in terms of responding to the crisis, but did they respond in the right way? Has the issue done more damage than it otherwise would have thanks to the actions of McDonalds Saudi, or were they right in involving the police when they did due to their belief that they were being blackmailed?

What are your thoughts? What lessons can we take from this case? I’d love to hear from you.

PS Saudi social media personality Omar Hussein has also talked about the issue. For you Arabic-language speakers out there you can see his Facebook video below.

The definition of ‘Nobness’ – the UAE, social media defamation and differing views from the Gulf

It’s that time of year again. I don’t mean Ramadan of course, the month of charity and kindness, but rather the time of year when we read about a case of defamation. Over the past week there was an outcry in Australia following the arrest of an Australian national in the UAE following comments she put up on Facebook. To quote from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website:

In February, Jodi Magi, 39, took a photo of a car in her Abu Dhabi apartment block that was parked across two disabled parking spaces, without any disability stickers.

She blacked out the number plate and put the photo on Facebook, drawing attention to the seemingly selfish act, but not providing any identifying details or names.

However, someone in the apartment block complained to police and the case went to an Abu Dhabi court in June.

Ms Magi, who has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2012, said she was forced to sign multiple documents in Arabic without any translation.

Two weeks ago (at the beginning of July) she was found guilty of “writing bad words on social media about a person” and told she would be deported.

Magi was deported this week from the UAE following intense media coverage. Her argument was that she didn’t know what she’d done wrong in her Facebook post (which you can see below). Her words were considered to be insulting by the complainant, who wasn’t mentioned in the post, and the court agreed with the complainant and, based on the country’s defamation laws (which I’ve written about here), found Magi guilty, fined her, and sentenced her to be deported.

This is the post which got Magi deported. Magi claimed that nobness referred to an Australian term for the elite, rather than the English insult (image source: Facebook)

This is the post which got Magi deported. Magi claimed that nobness referred to an Australian term for the elite, rather than the English insult (image source: Facebook)

While I’m not going to share my views on this (there’s plenty of comments both for and against the issue, but the law is the law), I will share views and thoughts from the rest of the Gulf where double parking is all too common and where the issue is being raised on social media. First up is Bahrain, where there is an Instagram account called Bahrainidiots. Bahrain’s residents are encouraged to share their images of cars which are double-parked for publication on the account’s Instagram feed – for some pictures have a look below.

View this post on Instagram

بالعرض… Thx jay for the picture

A post shared by You Park Like An Idiot – Bh (@bahrainidiots) on

Similarly, Saudi social media users often share such images, especially on Twitter using the handle #برج_الكلب. Some recent images are below.

The most interesting comments about the issue of defamation came from Doha. Speaking to the English-language news site Doha News, criminal attorney and Qatar’s former justice minister Dr. Najeeb Al Nuaimi said it was “highly unlikely” that an expat or Qatari would be arrested for posting a similar picture as Qatar and the UAE differ in their definitions of defamation. To quote:

“In the UAE, this (incident) is seen as ‘you’re showing someone in a bad light’ or that you’re questioning the duty of the police. They didn’t do their job well, and have let this happen, and now you’re posting it and offending them,” he said.

Here, however, the local government would regard sharing such a photo as a “a mark of public service,” he added, continuing:

“We have Qataris posting all over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (about) things that they don’t like, or wrong things that they see…Here, it’s seen as doing something good.”

One of the publications which wrote about the case, the Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily The National quoted senior Abu Dhabi prosecutor Mohammed Al Dhanhani who explained that Magi was guilty under the 2012 Federal Anti-Information Technology Crimes Law No 5.

“She captured the picture without the consent of the (car’s) owner. She then published the pictures on the web and added insulting phrases.”

Each of these three actions is subject to prosecution under the law, which punishes all violators with a fine and/or jail, and deportation for all expatriates without exceptions, he said.

In an irony not lost on this blogger, while Magi’s state of affairs was playing out The National started its own photo gallery on bad parking in the UAE and posted images on its own website. Based on Al Dhanhani’s own interpretation of the law, is The National also guilty of the same offense under which Magi was sanctioned by capturing pictures without the consent of the car’s owner and then publishing these on the web?

For any lawyers out there, am I right or wrong?

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!

What are the dos and dont’s regarding defamation in the UAE

Defamation in the UAE is a criminal rather than a civil matter and the burden of proof is on the defendant. So be aware of the risks when you post online (image source: http://www.turbosquid.com).

After the outcry surrounding the arrest of the videographer who filmed an alleged assault in the street this week I thought it best to recap what defamation in the UAE covers and how to ensure that you don’t get into issues when creating and uploading content to the web.

Defamation in the UAE is different to most European jurisdictions in that defamation is a criminal rather than a civil matter. Raising a defamation case in the UAE is easy to do (actually, it’s much easier to do here than in other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia) and there’s no distinction between public forums and being online. The basics, as noted by Adil Khan in a post for sovedo.com, are below.

  • It is publicly forbidden to take a picture of another person without their permission.
  • Verbal abuses or gestures (even without the presence of a witness) can also lead to a fine and/or sentence.
  • 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.

The burden of proof is on the defendant to show that the allegations are false. Similarly, truth isn’t an absolute defense if the comment or content has proved to be damaging to the reputation of the person or organization who/which claims to have been defamed.

The issue of defamation gets even more complicated when it comes to social media. Blogger extraordinaire Alexander McNabb covered a case back of May of a University Lecturer who’d been charged of defamation for writing a blog about his experience with a previous employer. All social media channels are considered to be public forums, regardless of where those forums are hosted. Social media channels are considered to be prominent public forums and even those people posting anonymously can be prosecuted.

Two legal counsels from law firm Clyde and Co., Rebecca Kelly and Sharon Procter, have published one piece on AMEinfo that is worth a read both for individuals and their employers when it comes to social media and defamation in the UAE.

Probably, the best piece of advice is play it safe if you’re not sure whether your comments could be construed as defamation or not. And if you’re still unsure, remember the penalty for being convicted of defamation can be up to two years in prison and a fine of as much as Dh20,000 (US$5,444). So post in haste, repent at leisure.

Citizen journalist beware – the perils of shooting video in Dubai

Dubai’s social media was buzzing yesterday with chatter about a video uploaded to Youtube of a local apparently beating a van driver. The video, which was initially taken off Youtube and which can be viewed above, shows the national using his agal to hit the Indian driver who’d apparently clipped his four-wheel drive and who hadn’t stopped during the initial collision. Part of the incident, including the national’s car license plate were captured in the video, which was reposted several times on Youtube. According to media reports including one piece from the daily Gulf News, the issue became a police matter not due to the alleged assault itself but rather due to the video going viral and the attention that it attracted.

A video of a government official beating a van driver was posted on YouTube has generated a public outcry and urged police to take legal action, said a legal expert.
“Initially it was an ordinary assault case, yet as soon as it was posted on YouTube, it went viral on social media channels. Since then, the case became of public concern and incited public opinion — that was when Dubai Police intervened. They took the required legal action against the involved persons,” advocate Mohammad Abdullah Al Redha told Gulf News.

Sources from Dubai Public Prosecution confirmed to Gulf News that investigations started in the afternoon as soon as they received the case.

Al Redha said: “It became a case of disdain and disparagement and particularly that it’s Ramadan, the month of mercy and forgiveness. When such incidents develop into a matter of public opinion and concern, police have the right to refer the case to prosecutors. According to the Criminal Procedures Law’s article 10, the Public Prosecution [in its capacity as the legal representative of the public right] can order the police to open an official complaint against the government official even if the van driver doesn’t do so.”

The case took an interesting turn today with the news that the person who took the video, a fellow driver, was arrested. According to Gulf News, the alleged defendant’s son lodged the case citing defamation of his father and family.

Major General Al Mazeina, acting chief of Dubai Police, said the Asian man who posted the clip was arrested after the Emirati official’s son lodged a defamation complaint at Al Ghusais Police Station.

“We only arrested the man who took the video because of a complaint lodged by the family of the Emirati official,” said Major General Al Mazeina.

He said that no one had the right to take pictures or film anyone without permission and acknowledgment from the person who is pictured.

“The man who took the video was supposed to take the video to the police or to the concerned authority to report the incident and then the police for sure would take action but instead of that the man posted the video on YouTube,” said Major General Al Mazeina.

The son told police that the video had been seen by hundred of thousands of people worldwide, which had damaged the reputation of his father and the whole family.

Major General Al Mazeina said the Asian man admitted to police that he took the video and posted it on YouTube and that he also sent it to some of his friends. He said the Asian man happened to be passing by at the time the incident took place.

Under the UAE’s cybercrime laws, recording videos in public without the permission of those being filmed is illegal and constitutes defamation. Despite the uproar over the issue, it seems that the authorities may not be willing to drop the case against the person who took the video despite calls on social media to reward his decision to film and post the event online. The message is simple – don’t film anything that could be construed as negative and share it online. Or else you could be facing public charges.