Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the Constitution of the UAE provided it is not used to abuse or defame people, states a new principle of Dubai Court of Cassation.
Issuing the principle with regards to publishing articles in newspapers, the court said criticism should be based on facts and not intended to slander or blackmail. Also that criticism should come with good intention.
The new principle was issued in a case where the Court of Cassation upheld the judgment of Court of Appeal, ordering a Dubai newspaper to pay Dh100,000 compensation to a former CEO of a TV channel.
The judgment was in favour of the ex-CEO who sought compensation for defamation and moral damages as a result of articles published by the newspaper, which he claimed had abused his dignity and reputation.
The TV channel initially filed a case against the newspaper in Dubai Civil Court seeking Dh20,00,000 compensation. The ex-CEO alleged that the newspaper published a story accusing him of harassing an Egyptian lawyer in Egypt, which the lawyer had declined and in turn informed prosecution in Egypt.
The plaintiff alleged that the newspaper mentioned that the lawyer had filed a case against him in Abdeen court in Egypt. He added that the newspaper quoted the story from an Egyptian daily, and mentioned his initials.
He claimed that the newspaper accused him of recruiting staff from certain nationalities with salaries as high as Dh73,000, who did not possess sufficient experience.
The plaintiff also said that the newspaper had accused him of homosexuality, too.
The Court of First Instance dismissed the lawsuit but the plaintiff appealed the judgment at the Court of First Instance and then the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal cancelled the appellant's judgment and ordered the newspaper to pay Dh100,000 as compensation for libel and moral damage, where he was accused of hiring people without sufficient experience.
Both the parties did not accept the verdict and challenged it before the Court of Cassation, which upheld the sentence of Court of Appeal.
The Dubai Court of Cassation ruled that Article 30 of the Constitution of UAE guarantees freedom of press and expression, but prohibits publishing false information and defamation of a public servant.
Article 79 of Federal Law 15 of 1980, concerning publications also prohibits dissemination of news and photos and comments relating to the secrets of private and family life of individuals - even if it were true – with the intent of defamation.
The Court of Cassation said the verdict was thus issued also because the newspaper could not provide evidence that the plaintiff had recruited ‘incompetent’ staff with high salaries. Also that the newspaper had not identified the source that appointed the plaintiff as the chief and, therefore, had not acted in good faith.
And because the newspaper had printed the initials of the appellant, it cannot exonerate itself from liability from this part of the story, the court said and added that the initials were enough for people to recognise the character.
The court thus issued the verdict in favour of the plaintiff and held the newspaper responsible for this part of the story and said the plaintiff deserves to be compensated for that.
However, the court rejected plaintiff’s appeal for compensation for the news about homosexuality. The court justified its decision explaining that personal characteristics of the appellant cannot be related to judge his professional life or with regards recruitment.
Also the paper had not based the news about homosexuality on public records where an official case was filed against the plaintiff before the public prosecution, where it becomes general and accessible to everyone and does not remain a secret.
So the plaintiff does not deserve any compensation for this part of the story regardless of the report being false or incorrect.
The court said that criticism of a public employee’s performance should be fair and not done with bad intentions. And that the criticism should be related to his work and not his private life. Also the criticism should be in public interest.
The Court of Cassation also mentioned that the duty of proving the criticism is fair is the responsibility of the critic or the reporter of the story.