The new media draft law approved by the Federal National Council yesterday has prompted a debate among media leaders in the UAE.
Mohammad Yousuf, Chairman of the UAE Journalists' Association, said the law was not clear in prohibiting jail punishment for journalists criticising the ruling family and committing media-related offences.
Abdullatif Al Sayegh, CEO of Arab Media Group, said: "News agencies and reporters need not worry as long as they are doing a professional job."
"The UAE Government will support the media and be assured that whatever the new law is, it will benefit the country and its people," he said. The law, once approved, will not limit the licensing of new media organisations but has removed the condition of pre-approval on media content by the government.
The draft law approved yesterday in the FNC has to get approval from the Cabinet and The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, though it might not take a long time, according to FNC member, Ahmad Al Khatery, who is also a member of the legislative committee.
Al Khatery said: "The Federal National Council made many alterations to the original draft. We added the article on not forcing journalists to reveal their sources."
The law, not referring to this punishment, replaced it with a system of fines ranging from Dh50,000 to Dh1 million, for damaging the country's reputation or criticising the President, the Rulers of the Emirates, Crown Princes and their Deputies.
Mohammad Yousuf said the law only meant personal criticism, while allowing the criticism in media of laws and decrees and various other aspects related to office.
Media free zones will not be under the new media law once it is approved, said the FNC members.
Al Khatery said: "The law is applied on all media organisations licensed in the UAE. Free zones do have their own regulations, but the National Media Council has an agreement with the free zone authorities, which governs all media organisations working under their umbrella. Thus, media free zones remain to be under government control and monitoring."
Ahmad Al Dhahery, member of FNC, said: "The free zones apply their own rules, except what is stated in their regulations to be under the authority of the UAE Government. The media law is not an exception, for free zones already apply their own regulations regarding labour and financial affairs."
Al Dhahery said: "Online publications will be treated along with their print versions. However, other online media will only follow the UAE law if their owners resided in the UAE."