The United Arab Emirates is an important Middle East country, and it is powerful in the region because of its consistently growing economy based on the rich oil and gas resources. The UAE is a federation consisting of seven emirates. Its form of government is a unique combination of monarchy and republic – Emirates are governed by Emirs, who are absolute monarchs in these small states, but the Emir of Abu Dhabi is the President of the Federation, and the Emir of Dubai is the Prime-Minister of the country. The main religion in the UAE is Islam, and the state`s law is a mix of Sharia and civil law (“The world factbook: United Arab Emirates”, n.d.). All these circumstances cause an extraordinary situation with the mass media in the country – along with strict governmental censorship there exist some free media zones, which provide a great platform for the national and foreign media to deliver the information and entertainment to the audience both inside and outside the country.
The majority of TV channels, radio stations and print media in the UAE are owned by the government, which has a crucial influence on its functioning. However, in January 2001, Dubai Media City was opened in Dubai, which provides both national and foreign-based media and marketing companies with a favorable environment to conduct their activities and address their product to the public. Dubai Media City is a tax-free zone with totally business ownership. Thus, all the companies located there function absolutely independently and avoid governmental impact (“Dubai Media City”, n.d.). The presence of such media free zone allows the United Arab Emirates to get the reputation of a powerful media hub in the Gulf Region. Such famous worldwide TV companies as BBC World News, Bloomberg Television, and CNN International have their offices in Dubai Media City. Also, there are headquarters of the influential Arabic media, for example, Middle East Broadcasting Center, which owns a great network of TV channels and CNBC Arabia – a powerful business and financial TV channel. Moreover, plenty of maketing and advertising companies are represented in this free zone such as the leading international advertising and public relations companies and communications groups as Dentsu Incorporated (Japan), WPP (Great Britain), Havas (France), etc. (“Community of key industry players”, n.d.).
Despite that all broadcasting, advertising and other companies in Dubai Media City are privately owned, the UAE government made some attempts to regulate activities in this area. For example, in 2007, upon the request of the Pakistani military regime ruled by the President Pervez Musharraff, Dubai Government forbade independent private Pakistani TV companies GEO News TV and ARY Ove World to release their news programs or political analysis. There were also some cases with damaging the cables that caused a considerable slowdown in the communications. Hence, if even the privately-owned companies are to some extent restricted by the government, it is evident that governmentally-owned media suffer from considerable censorship. It is not as comprehensive as in China or Iran, but there exist many regulations considering the content of web sites, broadcasting, and print media. TRA (Telecom Regulatory Authority) is the principal organ in the UAE which imposes governmental censorship on the media based in the country. A strict control exists, particularly, in the Internet sphere. For instance, in the UAE all dating, pornographic and gambling websites are banned; Skype and some parts of Wikipedia are also prohibited. Moreover, the population has no access to the pages containing the controversial political issues and to all Israeli domains. Thus, the presence of significant governmental ownership in the UAE`s media sphere cause many challenges for the freedom of speech in the country (“Internet censorship in Dubai and UAE”, n.d.).
To discover the media functioning in the UAE, it is reasonable to analyze the activity of the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), which has a headquaters in Dubai Media City and is one of the leading media in the region. The MBC Group is a network of TV channels, radio stations, and online platforms (for example MBC 1, Al Arabia, Al Hadth, MBC Bollywood, MBC Pro Sport, etc.), which deliver the news and entertainment to Arabs all over the Gulf Countries and Middle East. MBC has a long history. It was founded in 1991 in London by Saudi businessmen and in 2002 moved to Dubai Media City. Since the time of its establishment, the company remains privately owned. At the moment, it is equally shared between Abdulaziz bin Fahd, the son of the previous king of Saudi Arabia, and his uncle. It is ruled by a group of businessmen and stakeholders (“About us (MBC)”, n.d.).
MBC, with its developed network of TV channels and radio stations, provides a huge platform for advertising. Since the majority of the MBC channels provide entertainment, they are widely popular. Thus, advertisers are interested in placing their ads on those channels because the messages about their products are successfully communicated to the public. Hence, the MBC Group enhances its cooperation with various advertising and marketing agencies and other companies, which are interested in spreading the information about their products to the wide audience (“About us (MBC)”, n.d.).
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The MBC Group has a number of financial sources since it is owned by Saudi Royal Family and receives high income from advertising. Also MBC has some joint projects with the United States, which helps the corporation to expand its audience and increase the revenue (MBC: Middle East Broadcasting Center, n.d.).
MBC presents itself as a Pan-Arabic broadcasting company, so there are no anti-Muslim or anti-Islam rhetoric. During the first decade of its existence, the majority of programs provided by the MBC channels were entertaining. Thus, there exist some opinions that some western entertainment programs provided by the MBC channels do not fit Muslim traditions and values. However, such claims cannot be considered as proofs of MBC’s anti-Muslim position. In 2003 within the MBC network established a 24-hour news channel Al Arabia (“Al Arabiya TV”, n.d.).
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