THE AUTHORS: Fatima Balfaqeeh, Legal Counsel at RKAH Legal Consultancy and Wilario Rodrigues, Paralegal at RKAH Legal Consultancy
Within the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the media, technology and telecoms space have made great strides in growing as industries, and there have been recent developments following the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Media regulation is carried out at the federal level dually by the National Media Office (NMO) and the Media Regulatory Office (MRO) which work alongside the nation’s two licensed internet service providers, Etisalat and Du. As we step down from the federal level, there are numerous local bodies such as the Media Zone Authority (Abu Dhabi), Department of Culture (Sharjah), Fujairah Culture and Media Authority (Fujairah) that regulate this space within their corresponding emirates.
What Laws Regulate the Media Sphere in the UAE?
Audio, Visual, Print and Digital Content
All media institutions that create audio, visual, print and even digital content within the UAE’s mainland, as well as its media-free zones, must comply with the standards laid out under Federal Law No. 15 for 1980 Concerning Press and Publications. This law governs the provisions for periodic publications and their circulation, news agencies and films, to name a few.
Additionally, the National Media Council (NMC) Chairman Decision No. 20 of 2010 Concerning Media Content Standards is in place to ensure that records are maintained for all forms of content, be it print or digital content produced in each periodic interval of three consecutive months.
Finally, it is important to note the growing importance of digital content, especially through the usage of social media applications such as Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. Each of these can be utilized as a platform to disseminate information that needs to comply with the nation’s standards. Some of the notable laws in place to regulate this are:
- Federal Law No. 34 of 2021 on Combatting Rumors and Cybercrime which aims to protect the citizen’s privacy and combats defamation through any social media platform.
- Regulation of Using Social Media by the Employees of Federal Entities as Approved by the Cabinet Resolution No. 73/3/ & 1 of 2014 which aims at directing governmental employees on using social media safely and responsibly when expressing their views on various current issues.
- Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015 on Combating Discrimination and Hatred which criminalizes any act that triggers hatred and/or insults religion through any form of expression which covers speech and the written word in the form of books, pamphlets, or online media.
The above-mentioned laws help form the basis for disputes that may arise within this sphere. However, due to the infancy of the realm of media arbitration within the UAE, it is yet to be seen how these laws are to be put into practice.
Film and Theatre Production
Another area of focus to the UAE in the overall media industry is film and theatre production. There has been a great push on both a Federal and Emirate level to increase productions of artistic endeavors, attracting productions from Hollywood, Bollywood, and even other regional film industries.
The UAE was able to achieve that by setting up media cities and production companies such as:
- Dubai Production City, established in 2003,
- twofour54, launched in 2008 to accelerate Abu Dhabi’s media industry.
In addition, it is worth noting that Media arbitration is linked to the Sports Arbitration field: they intersect in the area of disputes of sports broadcasting, which makes it challenging to truly understand how many media arbitrations are active in the region in general.
However, this field is still considered to be young in age, albeit big in achieved outcomes and goals; we have yet to see any complex arbitration disputes arising out of that industry.
In order to assess its future viability, we turn to Egypt, more specifically the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA), one of the leading arbitration centers in the MENA region when it comes to arbitration in the media and entertainment sectors.
The Example Set by the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA) in Media Arbitration
Historically, Egypt was the region’s leader in media and various arts productions including theatre, cinema, and TV series. In 1990, it was the first Arab State to use the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat) to carry out satellite broadcasting and went on further to launch its own satellite NileSat in 1998.
The media and entertainment industry in Egypt operated without a clear regulatory framework until 26 December 2016, when it issued its own Media law. Prior to 2016, public broadcasters were subject to the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) Law No. 13 of 1979 which worked under the supervision of the Ministry of Information. Despite having legislation in place, many aspects such as the conditions, the rules of broadcasting or the methods to obtain a broadcasting license remained unaccounted for.
One of the key aspects for the 2016 Media Law was the establishment of a Supreme Council for Media Regulation, which was responsible for the regulation of audio, visual, print, and digital media, as well as the entity that granted licenses for their establishment. In addition to this, the National Entity for Media was established and responsible for the operation of State-owned media entities that provided broadcasting services and TV, radio, and digital production.
The passing of the 2016 Media Law completely eradicated previous uncertainties and provided a legal framework from which stemmed numerous disputes related to various private TV channels, satellite service providers and even newspaper publications. Over the past decade, CRCICA has administered 52 cases related to media and entertainment, a majority of which followed the application of Egyptian law, and a singular case that called for English law at the behest of the parties to the contract. The diverse nature of the disputes heard can be seen from contracts between producers and performers, and contracts related to the coverage of sports events, and management of TV channels, to name a few.
Two cases are briefly mentioned below to further illustrate the diverse types of contracts and disputes.
One of the first cases filed before CRCICA took place in 2014 involving an Egyptian sports federation and a private company, wherein the contract provided the latter with exclusive rights to broadcast various competitions and sports events held by the federation. However, due to security issues, a governmental decree was passed which effectively cancelled all competitions. As a result, the company was unable to pay the amounts due under the contract despite the mutual agreed upon amendment that effectively reduced the company’s payments to the federation, as well as extended the contract duration to another year.
One of the key issues before the tribunal related to whether the cancellation of the competition amounted to a force majeure event, discharging the company from fulfilling its obligations under the contract, and whether the private company could offset some of the debts owed against the debts that were owed by the federation. The tribunal held that passing of the governmental decree did not, in fact, create a force majeure event as the parties to the contract mutually remedied its consequences through the contract’s amendment. However, it did allow the private company’s request to offset its payments against the debts to them by the federation.
Another case filed in 2012 was administered by CRCICA albeit, an ad hoc case. This case involved a dispute arising from a contract between a TV actor and a production company. The main litigating elements of the dispute revolved around the production company’s right to terminate unilaterally and the repayment of a down payment paid to the TV actor.
The sole reason for the request for repayment of the sum paid to the actor was due to the dissatisfaction of the production company with the performance of the series for which the actor was hired. The actor, in turn, argued the fact that he was not responsible for the cancellation of the production and should not be held liable for the non-performance of a third party. The tribunal interpreted the clear wording of the contract and the clause it included as conferring the right of unilateral termination upon the producer and, therefore, awarded the company the amount of the down payment.
The UAE has many regulatory frameworks and legislations already in place to govern the functioning of the media and entertainment industry within the nation. This is a great first step despite their infancy within this sector.
Furthermore, many arbitration centers across the country are fully functional to effectively hear cases before them. Now, it is important that the nation looks to Cairo and CRCICA as a role model to further flesh out the nuances of media regulation and arbitrations arising from disputes within that industry in order to truly become a regional leader in this sphere.
What remains in store for the United Arab Emirates in terms of media arbitration is yet to be seen.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Fatima Balfaqeeh is a Legal Counsel at RKAH Legal Consultancy, independent Arbitrator, Mediator, and a Business Consultant. She has worked extensively within commercial, legal, and operational matters across a wide array of sectors such as construction, banking, insurance, and commercial transitions.
Wilario Rodrigues is a Paralegal at RKAH Legal Consultancy equipped with the tools of conducting extensive research, and producing stellar writings with a knack for being detail-oriented. He conducts effective research to aid counsel in legal matters and his work ethic thrives across diverse communities.