U.A.E. Blocks Sunday Times Over Coverage of Dubai Debt Crisis
By Henry Meyer and Zahraa Alkhalisi
Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The United Arab Emirates blocked distribution of the U.K. Sunday Times newspaper today due to its coverage of the Dubai debt crisis, the London-based weekly’s representative office in Dubai said.
The News Corp.-owned newspaper was barred from sale and the Sunday Times is awaiting further instructions from the authorities, the office said in a statement.
The National Media Council, the U.A.E. body responsible for the media, declined to comment. The move came after the Sunday Times published a photo montage in today’s edition showing Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum sinking under a sea of debt.
The city-state on Nov. 25 asked for a delay on repayments of $59 billion in liabilities, sparking a sell-off in global markets. Dubai amassed at least $80 billion in debts to develop itself into a tourism and financial center, building the world’s tallest tower and biggest man-man islands. A property slump has left Dubai unable to service its debts and dependent on neighboring emirate Abu Dhabi for help.
U.A.E. legislation dating back to 1980 threatens imprisonment for journalists who criticize the government or royal family. It does not apply to foreign media organizations, which are governed by special laws.
Under a new draft law, local media organizations which “insult” senior government officials or the royal family face fines of up to five million dirhams ($1.36 million), and those which knowingly publish “false information” or stories which “harm” the economy may be fined up to 500,000 dirhams.
U.A.E. newspaper Al Khaleej criticized the international coverage of Dubai’s debt, in particular the U.K. press, as a “media attack” on the success of the city-state. Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate within the seven-member U.A.E. Dubai is the second biggest.
Just another sign of things to come…