The present-day media environment in the UAE counts numerous local Emirati media outlets and major international news providers, which operate alongside each other in a cosmopolitan environment. Yet the restrictive media legislation that has been in force since 1980 means that this environment is also one characterised by self-censorship and government control, and its conditions are worsening.
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Sheikh Mohammed was keen to initiate reforms and transform Dubai into an international trade and tourist hub while also making it less reliant on dwindling oil reserves. He thus launched several initiatives to further the emirate’s modernization and development process. Known as a man generally not satisfied with the status quo, Sheikh Mohammed’s first shake-up as prime minister came in April 2007, when he announced a strategic review of the UAE’s governance at both the federal and local government levels.
Qatar’s 21st-century media environment has been largely dominated by the growth of al-Jazeera, which consolidated itself as a major international media outlet after securing unrivalled access to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The channel established an English-language service in 2006 as it continued to expand, however its popularity has since begun to wane amid accusations of biased reporting during the 2011 Arab uprisings, and due to the competitive pressure exerted by Saudi Arabia and its own pan-Arab news channel, al-Arabiya.
Anything that challenges the Wahhabi understanding of the Islamic faith (such as the sanctity and holiness of the Prophet’s companions) is subject to criminalization under the banner of sacrilegious behaviour. Punishments for blasphemy and apostasy include lengthy prison sentences, physical torture in the form of public flogging and, occasionally, death sentences.
A report published in February 2016 by Amnesty International alleges war crimes committed by all sides, notably Islamic State (ISIS), which has carried out public executions, serious abuses faced by migrants and refugees, lack of access to hospitals and schools, attacks against journalists, human rights activists and NGOs workers, declining women’s rights and a dysfunctional legal system.
Kuwait has a relatively open media environment in comparison to its Gulf neighbours, and is ranked highest of all the Gulf states in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index. However, its ranking of 103 (out of 179) indicates that Kuwaiti journalists face restrictions on their reporting and that negative portrayals of certain subjects, such as Islam or the ruling family, remain off-limits.
The government has succeeded in building a strong base to control journalists and the media in Egypt. Many have fallen in line, and often are rewarded for doing so. Those who try to resist are frequently harassed, with allegations of ‘reporting false news’ the easiest way to clamp down further on media freedom.
The KRG has continued to grow in stature and international standing, even as ISIS has harassed its borders and threatened its very existence. But the greatest threat to a prosperous future remains an internal one. The demon of internecine strife has not disappeared and, while the fault lines of Kurdish politics continue to undercut the region’s potential, any talk of truly stable and steady progress remains just that: talk.