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A sharp decline for the UAE in the World Press Freedom Index

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The UAE recorded a sharp decline in the World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders, ranking 138 for the year 2022, seven places behind last year’s ranking.

Reporters Without Borders said that in the UAE, by muzzling dissenting voices, the government is curbing the independent press, whether local or foreign.

The organization indicated that expatriate Emirati journalists might be harassed or arrested and sometimes even handed over to the authorities of their country.

According to the organization, most Emirati media outlets are owned by institutions close to the government, noting that the Gulf daily, which is published in the Emirate of Sharjah, is the leading newspaper in the country in terms of distribution.

As the first newspaper established in Emirates history, it is the Al-Ittihad newspaper, which the Abu Dhabi Media Group funds. English-language newspapers, such as Gulf News and The National, are also very influential among readers.

The National Media Council regulates the work of media institutions in the UAE. Still, it does not hesitate to censor content that criticizes government decisions or threatens “social cohesion”.

This pretext and other vague phrases are used to silence any voice that does not conform to the government line. These measures are not limited to the local press but also include publications of foreign media, which the National Council subjects to the same standards applied to national newspapers and does not hesitate to impose sanctions on them.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under the constitution. However, the UAE government can censor publications it deems excessively critical of politics, ruling families, religion or the economy under a 1980 law.

The authorities have also been heaping penalties on journalists since the enactment of the Cybercrime Law (2012), which was updated in 2021. In addition, spreading “rumours,”, especially about the COVID-19 pandemic, is punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

Like the rest of the Gulf countries, the UAE invests a lot of money in TV channels, as Dubai has become an actual media pole in the region, bearing in mind that it is the centre from which the offices of international news agencies are based.

A culture of loyalty characterizes society to Al Nahyan, the founding family of the UAE, whose name is historically associated with the country’s prosperity and economic development.

In this context, any criticism of one of its members is condemned and accused of disloyalty, which leads to retreat into the shell of self-censorship.

The UAE has become an expert in electronic surveillance of journalists and bloggers, who find themselves under the scrutiny of the authorities as soon as they make some critical comment.

They are usually accused of defamation, insulting the state, or spreading false information to tarnish the country’s reputation, where harsh sentences await them with long prison terms, noting that some are subjected to ill-treatment while in detention.