Why is freedom of the press important today in the UAE?
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for a set of rights designed to provide guiding principles of all interaction with fellow human beings, or with the State. The universality of the rights provided for in this declaration stem out of the need to protect citizens from any arbitrary use of power by the government or with our fellow beings.
One of the core freedoms provided for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the Freedom of Speech under Article 19. This right allows for the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and information to enable members of society to form their own opinions on issues that affect their society. However, the protection provided for by this right exists in so far as its exercise does not infringe upon the rights of fellow human beings.
The concept of freedom of Press is coined from the right to freedom of speech and expression. The freedom of Press establishes specific special rights and duties to the members of the Press. These rights and freedoms are offered in the realization of the vital role played by the media of being a watch-dog and informing society on matters of public interest and the creation of a platform for public debate and interaction(Hoover, 2017).
Definition and scope of Freedom of Press
While the freedom of expression and media are entrenched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; there is no universal definition of the freedom of Media. In the absence of this definition, different countries ascribe different definitions and degrees of freedom of media to fill the existing lacuna.
As such, an acceptable definition of the freedom of press coined from the nature of the rights it provides is that the freedom of press encompasses both the individual and institutions. Press includes; print media, newspapers, blogs and magazines, Freedom of the press allows for the publication of ideas, the right of print and broadcast media to express political views and to cover and publish news that is true and factual.
The main difference in the different jurisdictional definitions of freedom of media is the question of what qualifies the threshold of responsible media coverage. Many factors influence these definitions and seek to establish the concept of media gagging as well as punishment for any publication that contravenes the acceptable standards.
Importance of Freedom of Press
The importance of the Freedom of the press lies in the fact that the majority of citizens lack the capacity or ability to gather newsworthy events that are necessary to inspire political or social action. In seeking out this information or news, the Media seeks to bridge the gap between society and newsworthy events(Barendt, 2016). In so doing the media ensures the free flow of information and ideas that are essential to the growth of society and the Nation.
Human beings are emotional beings and are guided by two primary emotions. These include the emotion of love and the emotion of fear. Consequently, the need for information has grown to encompass every sphere of our lives. It is because of this reliance on information that the need to furnish society with credible and impartial information arises. It should be noted that the scope of Press is not limited to the political arena. The need for credible information covers every spectrum of our being from fulfilling household chores to professional decisions to education and health.
Freedom of the press has always been a key instrument in the functioning and growth of any society. The press and media play a key role in inspiring strict adherence to Human rights, the Rule of Law and in strengthening the sovereignty of a nation. The implementation of this mandate demands aggressive inspection of every action or omission of the government or its agencies. The goal is to keep the government in check by reporting and providing factual information to the general public. As such, members of the press are under a strict obligation to raise their voice against any dictatorship, corruption, and malpractices.
Freedom of Press has played a big role in inspiring growth, stability, peace, and harmony in many societies across the world. These notable achievements have been made possible by the powerful impact of independent journalism through digital media.
Press Freedom in the UAE
Article 30 of the UAE constitution provides for the freedom of opinion and expression in speech and writing, and the UAE is also a signatory to the Charter on Human rights which guarantees the right to information and freedom of opinion and expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information through article 32.
Despite there being evidence that indicates the benefits of embracing freedom of the press, and the entrenchment of the freedom of Press in the UAE legislation; the UAE continues to drag its feet in guaranteeing these fundamental rights (Esmaeili 2017). The UAE guarantees the Freedom of Press to the extent that the press coverage does not expose the evils of the regime or speak against leaders.
The UAE government through a set of laws and regulations has successfully restricted the freedom of expression and blocking access to information. The most notable of these laws is the cybercrime law adopted in 2012. The provisions of this law allow authorities to arrest anyone who attempts to cast doubt on the supremacy of the country’s preferred political system.
Unlike the provisions of the UAE Constitution that are interpreted selectively, law enforcement agencies in the UAE do not relent in making arrests of any person thought to contravene the obligation of ‘responsible media coverage.’ The UAE prisons are home to people who have been jailed for a tweet that is not less than 160 characters. The goals and inspirations of these needless arrests are to muzzle citizens into silence against a repressive regime; out of fear of prosecution and persecution.
It is almost impossible to imagine that a government can purport to limit the exercise of Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Press. However, the reality is that this continues to happen and some journalists have paid the ultimate price for reporting the atrocities of dictatorship regimes.
Reaping the advantages of exercising the Freedom of Press, is dependent on responsible media coverage and reporting. The lack of a universal definition of the Freedom of Press is the root cause of the double standards practiced across the different legal jurisdictions; particularly in the UAE where leaders pass legislation under the false impression of attempting to protect the rights of others against infringement by the media and the excuse of National Security, public order and morals.
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