It is this moderate level of censorship which one has to live with in the UAE. It isn’t particularly excessive or intrusive. But the Internet poses its own challenges to those who value free speech. Thanks to overly aggressive and imprecise filtering, web surfing can be a rather hit and miss affair.
Websites may be blocked or banned for being judged to contain overly critical, permissive or unpopular political or religious views. Sexual content and innuendos of the same are also routinely blocked. Although it is mainly these few issues that concern the Internet censors, the imprecise nature of the tools they use results in much more being nixed. A well-known victim of the censor’s broad swipe is photo-sharing service Flickr.com.
It is almost a wonder that Dubai is able to promote itself as a regional Internet hub, except for the fact that it allows its Internet City and a few other areas to operate outside of the nationwide proxy.
On balance, bloggers can blog without much trepidation. Editors can publish and pundits can expound—again, provided they take care not to cross those few well-known boundaries.
But the risk of unwarranted prosecution is there. The UAE has a rather detailed law outlining restrictions on the press. It is often a question of how frequently and severely the law is applied. The answer it seems is infrequently and lightly enough to allow the press and freedom of speech to flourish mostly unhindered. Nonetheless, there are efforts being made by journalists to further the cause of free speech. A Gulf News article dated 23-Jan-2006 reports:
Media activists will submit a proposal for amendments to the UAE's press law, which will demand freedom of speech as a fundamental right, and reporting restrictions curtailed to a few "exceptional cases".What an event such as this illustrates is that, if nothing else, the UAE is in practice a society ever moving in the direction of more liberalization, not less. This applies to business, industry, law and society in general, including the cherished notion of free speech.
So, while censorship will likely always be a stealthy factor to contend with on key topics, the risks associated with freedom of expression will continue to diminish in the UAE.
SecretDubai is a bit miffed at Etisalat's Internet controls.
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