Media Law and Ethics
Nowadays media has gained more importance than ever due to the increased interconnectivity between regions because of globalization
Nowadays media has gained more importance than ever due to the increased interconnectivity between regions because of globalization. Sharing of information and knowledge has become a pillar in a more closely knit modern world. However, the significance of the media in its roles in social, economic, and overall development calls for ethics and discipline. Rao said that an unregulated media with no ethics would be disastrous not only to the social freedom, but also its own independence. Therefore, the need to have media laws that govern and guide the media as well as an ethical framework for the media cannot be underestimated. While the laws governing the media differ from one country to the other due to the diversities, the bottom line is the regulation of sharing information to ensure that it serves the interest of the consumers and general social wellbeing. In advanced democracies such as the US, media laws and ethical standards are higher and more developed, while emerging economies that have gained global recognition such as the UAE have also become significant. This paper will provide an overview of the media laws and ethics in the United States and United Arab Emirates and compare the situations in the two countries before making recommendations on how to improve the overall benefits that the society can reap from a responsible and ethically sound media in the United Arab Emirates.
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The freedom of press in the US is enshrined in the First Amendment of their Constitution. It is categorized as a basic human right alongside the freedom of religion, speech, petition, and assembly. The interpretation was strengthened by court decisions that saw the media win in many cases, notably the New York Times v Sullivan, asserting the respect that the US society offers to their press. This legal recognition is in line with Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the independence of the press. The media law in the United States is always civil and would only be described in criminal very rare cases.
On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates media industry is new and was only formalized in the 1980s, with the country gaining independence only in the 1970s. Therefore, most of their laws are still new as the country undergoes transitions in accommodating the media within its legal frameworks. In the 1980 Press and Publishing Act, the law criminalizes "blemishing the president of an Arab, Islamic or any other friendly state”, while Article 77 denies reporting any news that defame "Arabs and their civilization”. At the same time, the country demands that any reports must adhere to the culture and religion of the UAE. In 2007, the UAE Journalist Association adopted a 26-clause code of ethics that would guide their operations with more emphasis on morality than criminality of their reporting. This has been further refined over the last decade to make further improvements ensuring the freedom of speech. In 2012, the Media Zone Authority proposed a welcome content code that would guide the media. One of the most advanced developments in this code is the freedom of journalists to publish information even if it can potentially cause harm. However, more needs to be done in the UAE to ensure that the media matures more quickly as well as the country’s democratic space grows.
Comparative Analysis of the Nature of the UAE and US Media Laws
Criminal vs. Civil Cases
One of the main differences between the media law in the United States and the United Arab Emirates is the nature of crime. While cases involving the media are almost always treated as civil litigation in the United States, most of them are regarded as criminal offence in the UAE. Criminal offences are generally considered harmful to the society and would be charged through indictments. In this case, the complainant may be excluded in the proceedings of the case as the state takes over. It means that criminal cases do not necessarily have any specific victim. It is majorly the manner in which media issues are handled in the UAE (Duffy, 2011). For instance, defamation is cited as a criminal offence.
On the other hand, civil cases involve litigation between two parties one of whom feels aggrieved. The parties may represent individuals or organizations being the main complainants. The complainant may withdraw the case from court because they are the main drivers of the proceedings considering that the court acts as the mediator. Media crimes in the United States are treated in this manner. A complainant may sue a media outlet for spreading information that may be false or inaccurate, and the complainant has to provide a proof that the information was inappropriate. This form of litigation is prevalent between the media and the US society. Notably, the government may be a party in a civil litigation.
Constitution vs. 1980 Press and Publishing Act
Another difference in the media law in the United States and the United Arab Emirates is the foundation of this law. While the basic human rights are universal and practiced all over the world, the freedom of press is not. The United States’ freedom of press is enshrined in their constitution as a basic human right being supported by numerous court cases. The media is allowed to report any information that they regard as beneficial to the society even if it demeans some of the government agencies. The only condition for this is to ensure that the information is factual and serves the interest of the society as guided by media ethics. The privacy of individuals, especially public servants, is scrutinized; as long as the reporting is factual, the media coverage is allowed and encouraged.
On the other hand, media freedom in the United Arab Emirates is guided by the Press and Publishing Act that was passed in 1980. It was further revised, and a guideline was issued in 2011 outlining the limits of media freedom. According to this guideline by the Media Zone Authority, which is the body in charge of media regulation in the UAE, journalists are barred from espousing the privacy of individuals. At the same time, the UAE banned the local press from reporting negative news about their ‘brotherly nations’, thus creating a more regulated and restricted media environment. Recent developments have, however, led to the adoption of policies that protect the press from possible litigation even if they reported on information that could potentially cause harm, a development that was earlier controlled and restricted.
Binding between Media Ethics and Law
Increased media freedom calls for bigger responsibilities and adherence to the industry ethics. In the United States, the law provides the media with freedom, and the state only steps in when concerns are raised. There is a close link between the law and media ethics where journalists are mostly excluded from litigation and their respective media houses are held accountable for incorrect information. The law rarely punishes a journalist because the latter is regarded as an agent of the media house they work for. In this case, the media ethics is highly responsible for a proper media coverage. The media is also liberated, and its ethics is more secular using more rationale than cultural or religious beliefs.
On the other hand, the media ethics in the UAE is weaker as it does not complement the law in a strong way as in the United States. Therefore, individual journalists are held responsible for incorrect information. The difference is evident with the large number of journalists that are jailed in regarded as less democratic. At the same time, the inclusion of the religious aspects into the media law makes the country less liberal compared to the countries with more advanced democracy.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The development of the media laws in the United States has a long history of social and institutional democracy. The media has taken an important role in the political, economic, and social progression. The increased prominence has led to the need to have more elaborate regulations from within. The same cannot be said about the United Arab Emirates who attained independence only in the 1970s, and their media industry dates back to the 1980s. Considering that the process of globalization made the UAE an important economic hub, it should adopt international standards of media through both regulation and ethics.
One of the basic recommendations of the media law in the UAE is the revision of the law to make law misdoings civil and not criminal. It would enable journalists to have more strength in fighting litigation without facing possible police arrests as well as making authoritative reports on the issues that affect the society even if they involve people in power. In this case, a journalist would be protected from threats and influence that would increase the depth of coverage and reduce the fear of consequences. However, the journalists should follow the ethical guidelines of their industry with the authority having the right to punish them in case of falsehoods and inaccuracies on top of the possible civil litigation.
The United Arab Emirates should change the freedom of media from being a section of freedom of expression into a basic human right of freedom of press. Although strides towards a more independent media have been made, there still remains a room for improvement. Some of the current restrictions such as reporting on brotherly nations should be abolished as the correctness and authenticity of the information passed being the main guidelines for the freedom of media.
The government should align their regulations on media freedom with the international standards. With the fast-growing globalization and the emergence of many forms of mass media channels across borders, the adoption of international and more uniform guidelines such as those given by the United Nations is important. Since the country is an economic hub in the Middle East as well as a major tourist destination, local laws should be altered in favor of international media standards.