UAE’s New Media Regulation Law

Explore the transformative Federal Media Law No. 55/2023 in the UAE, its impact on media practices, licensing, and penalties. A must-read for media professionals navigating the new legal landscape.

Navigating Penalties and Duties

Introduction:

The Federal Media Law No. 55/2023 on the Regulation of Media in the UAE, issued on 02 January 2023, Abrogating Federal Law No. 15/1980 dated 16/11/1980 (“Media Law”) that came into force on 01 December 2023 represents a transformative step for the UAE’s media landscape, introducing robust regulations to ensure ethical media practices. Nikhat Sardar Khan, a distinguished legal expert with 24 years UAE experience, offers an insightful analysis of this pivotal legislation, guiding media professionals through its complexities.

UAE's New Media Regulation Law, Media Regulation Law in the UAE.
Media & Entertainment Law

Understanding the Law’s Scope and Impact:

This newsletter provides a thorough overview of the Media Law. This comprehensive guide covers various aspects of the law, such as licensing procedures, ownership of media institutions, standards for media content, and regulations regarding foreign publications and media offices. It emphasizes respecting religious beliefs, state regime, and public morals in media content, and outlines administrative penalties for violations. The law aims to align the UAE’s media sector with global standards and protect intellectual property rights, ensuring a responsible media environment.

Mandatory Licensing and Rigorous Ownership Scrutiny:

Media entities must navigate stringent licensing procedures, ensuring ownership structures comply with the new regulations. This section will explore these processes in detail, providing actionable insights for media professionals.

The licensing procedure and requirements under the Media Law involve several key steps:

Fulfilling Controls and Requirements: Applicants must meet specific controls and requirements related to media activities and standards of media content, as stipulated in the Media Law and its implementing regulation.

No Previous Violations: Applicants should not have prior suspensions, cancellations of licenses, or prohibitions related to media activities, unless these reasons have been resolved.

Payment of Prescribed Fees: Applicants are required to pay the relevant fees.

Additional Controls and Requirements: Any other controls and requirements specified in the implementing regulation of the Media Law must be met.

Ownership

The ownership of media institutions and information media under the Media Law, is open to both physical and juristic persons, subject to certain requirements. Physical persons must have full legal capacity, a good reputation, no criminal record in certain crimes, and obtain necessary approvals. Juristic persons must be structured as sole proprietorships or companies under the Commercial Companies Law, focus solely on media activities, and also obtain necessary approvals. Additional requirements may be set in the implementing regulation of the decree-law.

Media Activities in Free Zones

It requires that media activities within Free Zones comply with the standards and regulations set out in the Media Law and its implementing regulation. This includes abiding by the stipulated controls and requirements for media content. Media activities within the geographic boundaries of a Free Zone are subject to the law, and any activity outside these boundaries falls under the applicable state laws and regulations. Additionally, licensed entities in Free Zones must adhere to their specific licenses or permits and renew them within set time limits.

Further persons, facilities, and media institutions licensed or authorized to operate in the Free Zones are subject to control and supervision by the Competent Authority. This is to ensure their compliance with the provisions of the Media Law, its Implementing Regulation, and any related decisions. This clause highlights the regulatory oversight extended to Free Zone media entities to align their operations with national media standards.

Media Content Standards: Upholding Ethical Practices:

The law sets forth comprehensive standards for media content, emphasizing respect for the state regime, public interest, and community values. This segment will dissect these standards, highlighting their implications for day-to-day media operations.

The Media Law outlines comprehensive standards for media content. These standards emphasize:

  • respect for religious and moral values, the state and its institutions, and the societal fabric of the UAE.
  • They prohibit the dissemination of content that can harm national interests, public order, or the social and cultural fabric.
  • Additionally, the law bans spreading misinformation, rumours, or anything that could harm the economic or security interests of the state.

This framework aims to ensure that media content aligns with the cultural, social, and legal norms of the UAE, fostering a responsible media environment.

In-Depth Actions for Media Professionals and Organizations in the UAE

The Media Law provides a comprehensive definition and scope of what constitutes “Media Activities” within the legal framework of the UAE.  

Broad Definition of Media Activities

  • Inclusive Nature: The term ‘Media Activities’ is defined broadly. It includes any activity related to the creation, movement, sharing, printing, publishing, and broadcasting of media content. This content can be in various forms – readable (like text), audio, visual, or digital.
  • Availability to Public: The crucial aspect is that these activities make media content available to the public via various information media channels.
  • Paid or Unpaid Basis: The law applies regardless of whether these activities are commercial (paid) or non-commercial (unpaid).

Examples of Media Activities

  • Radio and TV Broadcasting: This encompasses traditional broadcasting as well as modern formats like IPTV, OTT (Over-The-Top media services), and VOD (Video on Demand).
  • Video Game Services: Includes both interactive and non-interactive video games that are developed and distributed within the UAE.
  • Cinema Movies and Artworks: The production and distribution of films and artistic works fall under this category.
  • Newspapers and Publications: Traditional print media such as newspapers and magazines are included.
  • Book Fairs: Organizing or participating in book fairs is considered a media activity.
  • Electronic and Digital Media: This broad category includes various digital and online media activities.
  • Photography: Professional photography, whether for commercial or artistic purposes, is included.
  • Other Activities: The law also covers additional activities as specified in the Implementing Regulation of the Decree-Law.

Role of the Council and Competent Authority

  • Issuing a Comprehensive Guide: The Council, in coordination with the Competent Authority, is responsible for issuing a guide that details the specific media activities and their categories.
  • Regular Updates: This guide is not static; it is updated regularly to reflect changes in the media landscape and to incorporate new forms of media activities as they arise.

Media Activities and their Requirements

The Media Law meticulously addresses the licensing and content regulation across various media platforms. This includes obligatory licensing for radio, TV broadcasting, and specific permissions for the display of cinema movies and artworks. It mandates compliance with media content standards, ensuring publications and broadcasts align with UAE’s cultural and legal norms. The law also extends to the regulation of foreign publications and media offices, requiring adherence to specific operational guidelines and intellectual property rights, underscoring the UAE’s commitment to a legally compliant and ethically responsible media landscape.

Radio and Television Broadcasting: License Acquisition and Content Adherence

  • Securing Licenses/Permits: Actively seek and maintain the necessary licenses or permits for any radio or TV broadcasting endeavor. This is a mandatory legal requirement.
  • Content Standard Compliance: Rigorously ensure that all content broadcasted meets the Media Content Standards as specified. This includes regular reviews and updates to content strategies to stay aligned with evolving standards.

Cinema Movies and Artworks: Permit Acquisition and Regulatory Compliance

  • Permit for Displaying Artworks and Movies: Before displaying any cinema movies or artworks, secure the necessary permits from the Council.
  • Detailed Adherence to Implementing Regulation: Familiarize yourself with the specific controls, requirements, and procedures as outlined in the Implementing Regulation related to these displays.

Newspapers and Publications: Licensing and Content Standardization

  • Essential Licensing for Publications: Acquire and renew the required licenses or permits for running newspapers and publication houses.
  • Publishing within Content Norms: Ensure all published materials, including digital publications, strictly adhere to the stipulated Media Content Standards.

Electronic and Digital Media: Licensing and Liability Management

  • License for Electronic/Digital Media Activities: Obtain appropriate licenses for any form of electronic and digital media activity, including those on social media platforms.
  • Understanding Liability for Published Content: Be aware that your organization is legally liable for any content published under its electronic and digital media activities, irrespective of whether these activities are authorized or not.

Photography Activities: Permits and Content Approval

  • Photography Permits: For any ground, aerial, or sea photography, ensure you have the relevant permits. This is crucial for both commercial and artistic photography.
  • Content Approval Procedures: Align with the Competent Authority to get approval for texts and content related to your photography projects.

Book Fairs: Organizational Compliance and Content Verification

  • Permits for Book Fair Organization: Secure the required permits if organizing book fairs and provide comprehensive details of displayed books to the Competent Authority.
  • Verification of Content Standards: Actively ensure that all books displayed at the fairs comply with the Media Content Standards. This might involve pre-screening processes.

Foreign Publications

  • License from Country of Origin: Entities must provide a valid license issued by the country where the original publication was released. This is to ensure that the publication is legally recognized in its origin country.
  • Consent of the Original Publisher: Proof of consent from the original publisher or their legal representative is mandatory. This consent must explicitly permit the reprinting of the publication in the UAE.
  • Editorial and Content Conformity: The reprinted version must match the original in terms of editorial material and overall media content. This rule ensures that the reprinted edition is a true representation of the original, whether it’s the version published in the nation of origin or an international version.
  • Exclusion of Non-Compliant Materials: The Competent Authority has the power to exclude any books or publications that do not meet the UAE’s media content standards. This is a critical measure to maintain content integrity and compliance with local norms and regulations.
  • Additional Requirements: There may be other requirements or controls as specified in the Implementing Regulation of this Decree-Law. Entities are advised to refer to these regulations for comprehensive compliance.

Foreign Media Offices

  • Licensing for Operation: Foreign media offices that wish to engage in media representation activities within the UAE are required to obtain a license from the Competent Authority. This step is crucial to regulate foreign media presence and ensure adherence to UAE laws.
  • Conditions and Requirements: The Implementing Regulation of this Media Law outlines specific conditions, licensing requirements, and work controls for foreign media offices. These include guidelines for reporters, journalists, and other employees working in these offices. It is imperative for foreign media offices to familiarize themselves with these regulations to operate legally in the UAE.
  • Permits for Unregistered Foreign Reporters and Journalists: The Council is responsible for issuing permits to foreign reporters and journalists who are not registered in the UAE, as detailed in the Implementing Regulation. This provision ensures that even unregistered foreign media personnel can legally operate in the country, provided they adhere to the stipulated guidelines.

Standards of the Media Content

The Media Law outlines the standards that must be adhered to by anyone practicing a media-related activity or profession in the UAE.

  • Respect for Religious Beliefs: All media content must show respect towards the Divine Entity, Islamic beliefs, heavenly religions, and other beliefs, avoiding any form of disrespect or abuse.
  • Respect for State Regime and Institutions: Media must respect the UAE’s regime, its symbols, government institutions, and the supreme interests of the state and community.
  • Alignment with State Policies: Content should respect and align with the state’s local and international policies and orientations.
  • Foreign Relations Consideration: Media activities should not negatively impact the UAE’s foreign relations.
  • Cultural and National Identity Respect: The state’s cultural heritage and national identity must be respected in media content.
  • Unity and Social Cohesion: Media must avoid publishing content that could harm national unity or social cohesion.
  • No Incitement to Conflict or Violence: Media must not incite sectarian, regional, tribal conflict, violence, hatred, terrorist acts, or create discord within the community.
  • Community Values and Public Interest: Content should respect community values and consider public interest, avoiding offensive material.
  • Respect for Legal and Economic Systems: The legal, economic, judiciary, and security systems of the state must be respected.
  • Privacy and Personal Life Respect: Media must respect privacy rules and the private lives of individuals.
  • No Incitement to Criminal Acts: Content should not incite crimes, violence, rape, or the use of narcotics and psychotropic substances.
  • Public Morals and Youth Protection: Media should avoid content that breaches public morals, corrupts youth morals, or promotes destructive thoughts.
  • Avoidance of Fake News and Falsification: Media must not publish, broadcast, or share fake news, falsified documents, or misinformation.
  • Economic Integrity: Content should not offend the national currency or the economic status of the state.
  • No Rumours or Misinformation: Publishing or sharing of rumours and unverified news is prohibited.
  • Additional Standards: Other standards as determined in the Implementing Regulation of this Decree-Law.

Intellectual Property Protection under the Media Law

Consistency with Media Content Standards: Advertisements must adhere to the media content standards as defined in the Decree-Law. It is prohibited to display advertisements that are inconsistent with these standards or that may harm the public interest, either directly or indirectly.

Disclosure Requirement: All advertisements must include a clear and explicit notice indicating that the material is an advertisement. This requirement aims to ensure transparency and prevent confusion between advertising and editorial content.

Intellectual Property Rights: These regulations will apply to all persons, facilities, and media institutions involved in publishing or displaying advertising materials. Individuals, facilities, and media institutions must adhere to existing legislation related to intellectual property and trademarks. This compliance is essential to protect the rights of creators, innovators, and owners of intellectual property in the media industry.

The Media Law underscores the importance of intellectual property rights, safeguarding the interests of creators and innovators. This section will delve into how the law fortifies these rights within the media sector.

Penalties for Non-Compliance: A Critical Overview:

One of the law’s most significant aspects is its penalty structure, ranging from substantial fines to possible closure of media facilities. This part will offer an in-depth analysis of these penalties, emphasizing the importance of compliance to avoid severe repercussions.

1. Range of Administrative Penalties
  • Warning: As a preliminary measure, offenders may be issued a warning.
  • Administrative Fines: Fines range from a minimum of AED 1,000 to a maximum of AED 1,000,000. In cases of recidivism, the fine may be doubled, but will not exceed AED 2,000,000.
  • Administrative Closure: Facilities and media institutions that commit offences can face closure for up to 6 months, with the possibility of renewal. Non-licensed institutions may be permanently closed, ensuring the protection of rights of bona fide third parties.
  • Cancellation of Licences and Permits: Licences, permits, and approvals issued to persons, facilities, or media institutions may be cancelled as a penalty.
2. Obligation to Cover Damages

Compensatory Expenses: Offenders may be required to bear the expenses and costs for rectifying and managing the damages resulting from their offences, provided the damages are not already rectified.

3. Additional Legal Sanctions

Preservation of Other Legal Penalties: Imposing these administrative penalties does not exempt the offender from additional penalties or sanctions that might be prescribed under other legislation.

This comprehensive framework for administrative penalties under the Media Law emphasizes the UAE’s commitment to maintaining a lawful and ethical media environment. It ensures that media-related activities are conducted responsibly, with strict adherence to legal standards, and that violations are met with appropriate sanctions to uphold the integrity of the media sector.

Conclusion:

The Media Law sets a new precedent for media regulation in the UAE. Its comprehensive approach to licensing, content standards, and penalties signifies a commitment to maintaining a responsible and ethical media environment. Nikhat Sardar Khan’s expertise provides invaluable guidance in understanding and adhering to these regulations.

Author’s Bio:

Nikhat Sardar Khan, a distinguished legal expert with extensive experience in the UAE’s legal landscape, currently heads the Department of Litigation, ADR and Corporate at Hilal & Associates Advocates & Legal Consultants. Her expertise encompasses complex litigation and dispute resolution in commercial matters, banking, finance, corporate practice, and more. As a qualified arbitrator and experienced mediator, she holds certifications from prestigious institutions like the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (FCIArb) and The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Her legal acumen, honed over decades of practice in both India and the UAE, positions her as a formidable figure in the field of law.

Nikhat Sardar Khan (FCIArb)(RICS)
Head of DIFC Litigation, Corporate & Arbitration- UAE,
MENA and India.
Arbitrator | Mediator | DIFC Practitioner
Email: ni****@hi*************.com

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