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4th January 2016

Cameron Crawford

Cameron Crawford

To provide benchmarks on content acceptability, certain free zones have sought to develop their own content guidelines: the Media Zone — Abu Dhabi and TECOM in particular have a content codes available for businesses operating in their respective free zones to refer to. However, it should be noted that these codes are not substantive legislation: compliance is therefore not necessarily compliance with the law, and may be viewed as only one factor in an approach to risk management rather than a watertight defence against legal proceedings.

The result of a lack of certainty as to what is permissible under the legislative regime and regulatory framework is a self-regulating industry. Whilst this may seem to have the virtue of offering businesses a great deal of flexibility in how they present and edit content, in truth the result is a risk-averse industry, unsure of the precise nature of its duties of compliance. The consequences of failing to self-regulate correctly can be severe, impacting revenues and in extreme cases resulting in criminal proceedings, so the industry’s caution is understandable. Moreover, the lack of clarity as to compliance obligations and potential lack of consistency in applying the existing rules can be off-putting to businesses looking to expand into the region.

In truth, the UAE has a blossoming digital media industry, helped in part by public investment and a largely pro-business approach by the relevant public authorities and regulators. This positive trajectory can only be enhanced by a solid regulatory framework, with the law providing the underlying principles, which are then clarified and updated by the courts and by regulatory bodies such as the TRA and NMC, who would also be empowered to use their expertise to take into account the nuances of UAE culture and the needs of the entertainment sector. The development of precedent would also be extremely helpful, enabling content producers and their advisors to make reasoned decisions, rather than relying upon speculative assumptions.

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