Digital Media in the UAE – Do You Know the Law?
Here in the MENA region we spend on average 10.9 hours a day consuming media and around 41% of that is digital (Arab Media Report 2013-2016). Time spent with traditional media such as books, newspapers and magazines are showing a decrease as highlighted by the recent sad demise of 7DAYS, the UAE newspaper, in Dec 2016. As companies shift their advertising budgets from traditional to digital, it is important to remind ourselves of the applicable laws, which we summarise below.
The Media Law
Although it is almost 40 years old, the Federal Law No. 15 of 1980 on Printed Matter and Publications (the Media Law) remains the main source of law. As its name suggests, it was designed with the more traditional print media industry in mind but its wording is wide enough to cover digital media.
The Media Law contains certain content restrictions, including the following:
criticising the rulers of the Emirates or the UAE;
instigation against Islam or harm to the state interests or society values;
opinions violating public discipline, insulting children or circulating subversive ideas;
inciting criminal activity, hatred or dissension;
publishing confidential official or military communications;
publishing in bad faith or misinterpreting minutes of meetings, deliberations or court hearings;
blemishing the president of an Arab, Islamic or any other friendly state or causing agitation to relations between the UAE and such states;
defaming Arabs, their civilisation and heritage; and
reporting news on ongoing criminal investigations if the judge orders investigations to be kept confidential.
In addition in 2012 the media regulator, the National Media Council (NMC), issued Resolution No. 35 of 2012 (National Standards) which restated some of the content restrictions similar to those in the Media Law set out above but also extended the list e.g. including respecting intellectual property rights.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) also has Internet Guidelines (previously called the Internet access management (IAM) policy) relating to content on the Internet. The policy must be taken into consideration to ensure the security of the Internet and protect end-users from harmful websites containing materials that are contrary to religious and ethical values of the UAE. Such sites include those that encourage crime, phishing sites, and sites that contain content relating to hacking or malicious codes, illegal drugs, pornography, gambling, etc.
The TRA publishes the Internet Guidelines and the ‘prohibited content categories’ so that end-users are aware of the reasons behind certain websites being blocked. In 2016, 81% of the websites blocked contained content contravening the ethics and morals of the UAE, including nudity and dating, 9% were not compliant with UAE laws and 6% related to phishing, hacking and spyware.
The TRA also recently issued social media guidelines including use of Facebook, Twitter etc. and has a Spam Policy.
Other Relevant Laws
Another piece of the legislative matrix to be aware of is Federal Law No 5 of 2012 on Combating Cyber crimes (Cybercrimes Law) (as recently amended in 2016). This contains content restrictions similar to the Media Law such as anything pornographic, related to gambling or offending public morals.
There is also Federal Law No. 2 of 2015 against Discrimination and Hatred (Discrimination Law), which has similar restrictions relating to offending religion, promoting discrimination or defamation and the Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 (Penal Code), which contains restrictions such as disclosure of private information. Another relevant piece of legislation is the Federal Law No. 24 of 2006 on Consumer Protection (Consumer Protection Law), which requires that advertisements are not misleading.
In addition to the federal laws above, some free zones also have their own content regulations such as the Dubai Creative Clusters Authority (DCCA) Codes of Guidance 2016 (comprising a code on fairness and privacy and a code on standards) (the Codes). Although the Codes are primarily aimed at broadcasters and publishers operating from Dubai Creative Clusters, they apply to all companies operating from any of the DCC free zones. The Codes are drafted in a descriptive rather than prescriptive manner and are based closely on the codes published by the Broadcasting Standards Commission in the UK. Interpretation of the Codes is left to the discretion of companies, which must take into account the prevailing social and religious morals of the UAE. All complaints regarding content will be heard initially by the DCCA but can be referred to the DCCA Tribunal.
Similarly in Abu Dhabi, the Media Zone Authority (MZA) has a Content Code 2016 (along with Guidance Notes) which applies to all entities operating from the freezone that publish, broadcast or communicate content to the public.
Certain sectors have additional requirements in relation to advertisements (such as pharmaceutical, real estate or raising money for charity) and some items are prohibited (such as alcohol and cigarettes).
The consequences for non-compliance with the relevant laws can be severe including large fines, imprisonment and loss of your trading licence so think carefully about your digital marketing and have policies in place to help your employees know the law.
If you would like any advice on your digital media content please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.