The United Arab Emirates discreetly imposed extensive limitations on the numerous journalists who are scheduled to attend the international climate conference in the country later this month.
The UAE has claimed it was an error.
The United Nations’ website for the climate talks removed the stringent regulations on reporting news that may provoke the leaders of the seven monarchies comprising the country, after POLITICO’s E&E News requested a statement from the UAE this week.
However, the event has unintentionally brought attention to the stark contrast in the treatment of journalists and protestors between the UAE and its Western allies. This has occurred as E&E News and other media sources have reported on the discrepancies between the Emiratis’ environmental promises and their pursuit of oil, which may have violated UAE regulations.
The UAE Media Regulatory Office released a document called “Media Content Standards” on October 23, outlining restrictions for news reporters. This document can be found on the website of the U.N. climate agency. The UAE will be hosting the upcoming climate talks in Dubai starting November 30.
The document urged journalists and media organizations to avoid publishing anything that may cause direct or indirect offense to the ruling government of the State, or could harm national unity and social harmony.
The standards document stated that they should refrain from publishing stories that may be viewed as offensive to other nations, whether intentional or unintentional. This includes revealing secrets that could harm a person’s reputation or wealth, as well as information that has been requested to be kept confidential.
The U.N. climate agency included a reference to the guidelines in a webpage designed for journalists covering the annual climate talks, known as COP 28. These talks are characterized by intense geopolitical tensions and typically involve behind-the-scenes negotiations.
When E&E News inquired about how reporters could cover COP 28 without facing consequences, the organizers in the UAE removed the link and document from the U.N. website. However, a copy of the deleted file was still accessible through Google’s search engine.
The guide in question is an outdated document that is not applicable for media attending COP28, according to a spokesperson for the talks from the UAE. In an email on Wednesday, they stated that it has been taken down from the website of the U.N. climate agency, where it was mistakenly posted.
The spokesperson, who preferred not to be identified in the article, expressed gratitude for bringing this matter to our notice. They also stated their anticipation for hosting the most comprehensive COP yet.
From 2016 to 2020, Sultan al-Jaber, an oil executive selected by the UAE, held the position of chair for the UAE National Media Council. This institution was established before the Media Regulatory Office.
Although the document has been taken down from the U.N. website, it is uncertain if the limitations also affect other reporters employed in the Emirates. The embassy of the UAE in the United States did not provide any answers to inquiries.
The possibility of biased treatment towards the media and attendees at the climate conference was a worry for certain democratic countries, even prior to the release of media regulations.
On Tuesday, an email from a spokesperson for the European Commission stated that the issue of protecting media freedom and the right to protest has been brought up multiple times to Heads of Delegation. They also mentioned receiving assurances that these freedoms would be upheld before the standards were ultimately withdrawn.
The spokesperson was given confidentiality in order to talk about confidential discussions between officials from the E.U. and the UAE.
The request for comment on the media standards set by the UAE was not answered by the U.S. State Department.
However, during a review of the nation’s human rights practices in 2022, the department discovered that the Emirates had implemented “severe limitations on freedom of speech and media, such as censorship and the use or threat of criminal libel laws.”
According to the State Department, government officials reportedly warned journalists who shared content that was considered politically or culturally sensitive. Due to the potential consequences from the government, editors and journalists often engaged in self-censorship. This was especially prevalent among foreign journalists who faced the risk of deportation.
The report mentioned that independent groups and news sources stated that the government engaged in deliberate hacking campaigns against activists, journalists, politicians, and dissidents.
At the moment, the organization Reporters Without Borders reports that two reporters are being held in custody in the nation. In recent times, individuals who use social media have also been imprisoned for speaking out against the UAE government or making fun of Emirati culture.
Zia Weise, a reporter, made a contribution.
An initial edition of this report was initially published by E&E News’ Climatewire.
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