A wake-up call for aspiring citizen journalists in the UAE (and lessons for Middle East marketers)

The widely published still image of July’s Dubai road-rage Youtube video that’s been used by news media worldwide.

The story is now well known and has received media coverage around the world. An incident of road rage in Dubai captured on video by a bystander and posted online inadvertently breaches United Arab Emirates laws, resulting in the arrest of the citizen journalist a couple of days later, even though he removed the video shortly after uploading it to Youtube.

Shock and outrage was the reaction of many Emiratis and expatriates living in the UAE to the video, as it was of media and media audiences worldwide. However, unpleasant though the video is, why did this video shock? Much worse things happen in the Middle East. Perhaps this video is shocking because UAE citizens are rarely depicted in such a light. One could also argue that, regardless of the truth of the matter, this incident reinforces old stereotypes of life in the Gulf, the status of local citizens and the lot of low income expatriates. According to UAE’s The National, Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, deputy chief of Dubai Police was careful to point out the actions shown in the video were not representative of the UAE’s culture and tradition, and that despite the alleged attacker being a government official, “no one is above the law”.

The arrest of the citizen journalist has prompted outrage, too. However, police arrests, criminal and civil court cases over Internet content have now become quite common place across the Middle East, even in the culturally tolerant UAE. So, if it’s possible for someone to be sued for defamation over a 140-character tweet, why is it a shock that someone is arrested over a controversial video? Part of the reason, is surely the poor public understanding of the relevant laws in the UAE governing such content: laws that, before the last wave of social media platforms, were mainly the concern of publishers and broadcasters.

Online content is considered by governments around the region as published content, whether it comes from a media house or not, making it subject to state law including media laws, cyber crime laws and the applicable penal code. If you publish an image or video of someone without their knowledge you may be at risk of civil action. Publish something about a crime, true or not, and you could be liable under criminal law. Publish content that could be considered defamatory and you could be at risk from both civil and criminal prosecution. In an age when atrocities, violence and public events are posted online with such frequency (and often shared with good intent), it’s perhaps easy for concerned bystanders to forget momentarily that their Internet activity is largely bound by laws of the country that they are living in, not some greater good. However, the law is the law.

So, what lessons does this provide for brand marketers? Legal concerns long helped deter brands in the region from embracing social media. However, as Facebook became part of people’s daily lives, many companies seem to take the view that social media content is fairly harmless unless it criticises their brand directly. This may be more often true than not, but brands would do well to pay close attention to local laws governing intellectual property rights, confidentiality, privacy, defamation and their responsibilities as an online publisher. Online content doesn’t have to be headline news to fall foul of the law.

See also, Alexander McNabb’s post on the road rage assault video on his own blog Fake Plastic Souks.

Useful references

Defamation and Social Media in the UAE (Clyde&Co, September 2013)

Developments in the UAE Cyber Crimes Law (Al Tamimi & Co, May 2013)

Media Laws and Regulation (UAE National Media Council)

Are brands at risk from the UAE’s new cyber-crime law? (Spot On PR, November 2012)

Full text of the 2012 cyber crime law (Gulf News, 12 November 2013)

Want to read more?

If you liked reading this post about digital media and regulation, you may also like the following:

Could your brand commit a content crime? (November 2013)

Are brands at risk from the UAE’s new cyber-crime law? (November 2012)

We are all publishers (March 2012)

The Freedom Meme (September 2011)

Who’s Afraid Of A Regulated Web? (May 2011)

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Carrington Malin

About the Author ()

Carrington Malin is co-founder of Spot On PR and has been managing sales, marketing, media and communications campaigns across the Middle East for more than 20 years. He likes technology, surfing and chicken liver salad. You can contact Carrington via Twitter at @carringtonmalin or via email at carringtonm(at)spotonpr(dot)com

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