ABU DHABI // More local programming and discussion of Emirati issues is needed on UAE airwaves, according to a Federal National Council report. But experts say that simply mandating government content when the vast majority of listeners are expatriates would not work.
Dr Tom Hundley, professor of communication and information studies at the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication, said Canada tried to insist on a certain amount of local content on broadcasts coming from America, but "it did not quite work". "I don't think that would work [here]," Dr Hundley said. "The Government should take steps to encourage local media content, but it should not take steps to discourage anybody else."
Faten Bader, a researcher for the Jordanian research house Arab Advisors Group, which compiled statistics on the UAE media, said the Emirates' model was more "positive" than those in other regional countries like Qatar, where there are no private stations and broadcasts are only in Arabic or English. "In countries with diverse communities, such as the UAE, if members of these communities do not speak Arabic or English then they would not find anything to listen to," said Ms Bader.
Radio stations in the Emirates broadcast in several languages, including Arabic, English, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog. There are 13 government-owned television channels and 24 government-owned FM radio stations, the highest in Arab countries - but FNC members said these failed to deliver a unified, federal message. The UAE has more foreign-language radio stations than any other country in the region, and is home to almost a quarter of the Middle East's 510 satellite channels.
The FNC report, presented in its last session, said discussion of national identity was "ad hoc" or totally absent in the country's media. Only 14 per cent of the content on the four government-owned media institutions - Sharjah Media Foundation, Department of Culture and Information in Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain Radio and RAK Radio - discuss national identity. The report said 55 per cent of all media programmes in the country last year were foreign or imported. Thirty-five per cent were from Arab countries and 20 per cent was from elsewhere.
A spokesman for Radio Spice FM, a Dubai-based station that broadcasts Hindi and Urdu music and has talkshows about celebrities, said it posed no risk to the UAE's sense of self. "I don't think it is harmful, because we are restricted to entertainment. We do not talk about religion or politics," said Hari Suvrna, adding that the news the station aired was "only interesting news, about the UAE and the world".
The station, which is owned by Fujairah Media, previously broadcast Filipino music, but stopped because of a lack of advertising. Dr Hundley said that embracing foreign-language media was part of being a mature society. "I do not perceive foreign media as a threat," he said. "Dubai, for example, will always be a cosmopolitan city and media should reflect that." firstname.lastname@example.org