Mass media in the United Arab Emirates
The media image of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is very complex, with a number of media actors producing entertainment and news for both a national audience and an international market. The country has the most modern infrastructure in the Arab world, and has set out, as a business venture, to become an international and regional media center. Equally, the UAE practices strict regulation of the national media business, with restrictions on freedom of expression.
According to Countryaah, the United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states (Emirates). Media law is federal through a common law, but the policy varies somewhat from one emirate to another, including its own state agencies for organizing and managing media activities.
The media image in UAE is characterized by the expansionary economic policy, which also entails a large number of foreign workers in the country. These are offered in several languages. Most national media is run by state-owned Abu Dhabi Media and Dubai Media Incorporated.
The development of the media sector in the United Arab Emirates started late. Prior to independence in 1971, the country was a British protectorate, and little focus on education, among other things, led to a small market for newspapers and magazines. Small urbanization and poor infrastructure contributed to the late development. However, a British station was established under British rule: British Forces Broadcasting Services (BFBC) had an FM station in the Emirates.
Modern mass media grew small in the 1960’s, and more in the 1970’s. Broadcasting was first introduced in Abu Dhabi: The first official radio station, Abu Dhabi Radio, was launched in 1964; the first television station, Abu Dhabi Television, in 1969. The first commercial radio station, Channel 4 FM, came on air in 1997, in Ajman. Several weekly newspapers were published, but first printed in Beirut, in the absence of printing works in the emirates. The first daily newspaper was founded in Sharjah in 1970: Al-Khaleej. The first English-language daily newspaper, Gulf News, was launched in Dubai in 1978.
As part of the country’s development as a modern, regional center, including in finance, the United Arab Emirates has established a media infrastructure to promote both national and international content production. Several so-called Media Free Zones (MFZ) have been established, with tax exemptions as an incentive for foreign players producing content for a foreign audience. The first zone was created in Dubai in 2002; later MFZ is established in Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras al-Khaimah.
There are 14 daily newspapers published in the United Arab Emirates, in several languages, and newspapers make up a larger portion of media consumption here than in other parts of the Arab world. The largest Arabic-language newspapers in the UAE are al-Bayan (Dubai) and al-Khaleej (Sharjah). The major English speakers are Gulf News (Dubai) and The National (Abu Dhabi). Several online newspapers are also available, including Emirates 24/7 (Dubai). Most newspapers are privately owned.
Television is the dominant medium in the United Arab Emirates, which has one of the highest viewing rates in the world. There are both state and private players, but most channels are offered by state actors such as Abu Dhabi Media (with Abu Dhabi TV), Dubai Media Incorporated (with Dubai TV), al-Murad Group in Ajman (with Ajman TV) and Sharjah Media Corporation (with Sharjah TV). Most are related to the various ruling families. Channels and programs are offered in both Arabic and English, as well as Asian languages. The largest distribution has foreign satellite-distributed channels.
Radio has traditionally played an important role as a source of information. There are a number of radio stations in the United Arab Emirates, with offers in several languages. Many are affiliated with the state media companies, but there are also independent stations. The most popular are music stations such as Virgin Radio Dubai and Al Arabiya 99.0, as well as City 101.6, with a Bollywood format.
Established in 1976, the national news agency Emirates News Agency (WAM) offers services in multiple languages and different platforms.
With its modern infrastructure and well-developed telecommunications, and the highest prevalence of mobile phones in the Arab world, there is a good basis for using social media in the United Arab Emirates. The Internet was made widely available in 1995, and the prevalence is among the highest in the region. More social media has been used, with Facebook being by far the most popular.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Constitution, but there are just as many restrictions, especially related to anything that can be interpreted as criticism (or insult) of the royal families. Media legislation was formalized in the 1980’s, including a press law from 1980. It allowed the authorities to censor content from both national and international sources, and banned criticism from the government, ruling families and allied states. Publication of information that could harm the country’s economy was also banned. The country is considered to have one of the most restrictive media laws in the region.
At the same time as the authorities have encouraged the spread of the Internet, they have introduced control over its use, including filtering and, in part, blocking websites. In 2012, a cyber crime law was passed, which can also be applied to individuals who violate the restrictions in the Press Act. The Terrorism Act of 2014 provides a further basis for public intervention.
Mass media in Iraq
Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the press, with the exception of the part published in the Kurdish areas, which the regime could not control, consisted of publications that were either official Baath party bodies or newspapers that followed a regime-based editorial line. After the regime was overthrown, the interim coalition authority issued a decree establishing a free press. At the same time, it was decided that a call for violence against the occupying power would not be allowed; some start-up newspapers were closed for violating this provision. The number of newspapers increased rapidly, and by the end of 2003 the country had approx. 250 newspapers and magazines. However, many of these had a short life span due to the unstable economic and political situation in the country, and in 2007 there were only approx. 20 daily newspapers left.
Following the 2003 invasion, the broadcasting business in Iraq was run through The Iraqi Media Network (IMN), created by the interim coalition authority to replace the former Ministry of Information. IMN started television and radio operations (both FM and AM stations). In 2004, the coalition authority decided that a consortium led by the US corporation Harris Corporation should take over the operation of the 18 television channels and the two radio stations that were then established.
Mass media in Iran
In principle, the 1979 Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but the newspapers must have a public license, and it is a matter of criminal defense to publish articles that violate the religion, senior religious leaders and public morals, or that offend named people. Tehran dominates the media image, not only because this is where most of the major newspapers are published, but the smaller newspapers in the province are largely using Tehran newspapers as sources.
Many of the newspapers from the Shah’s era entered after the revolution, and in 1985 a further tightening occurred when the authorities closed the radical newspaper Azadegan. Later that year, however, some liberalization occurred, in which the authorities allowed so-called “constructive” criticism of the government. Since the late 1990’s, the press has been subject to a legal campaign to further restrict its limited freedom and a number of newspapers have been closed. The largest daily newspapers are Ettela’at (Information; founded in 1925, circulation: about 500,000), Hamshahri (Citizen; circulation about 400,000) and Kayhan (Universe; founded in 1941, circulation about 350,000).
The national news agency IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency) is state-controlled, as is the radio and television business run by the state Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). In the radio channel Radio Quran, loud reading is sent from the Quran. There are three nationwide radio channels and seven television channels, in addition to 28 local television stations.