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3D Illustration of media icons with the UAE flag as the title image for our blog about media in the UAE

Media In The UAE: UAE Media Landscape Guide

Charles Ayling

Oct 10, 2023

Following its liberation from British occupation in 1971, the United Arab Emirates' mass media landscape had already begun and proceeded to develop significantly.

Since then, the majority of the UAE's media outlets have been governed by government-owned umbrella organisations, as well as the National Media Council and its extensions.

In reality, it has risen to become one of the world's largest media consumers. According to research, the United Arab Emirates ranks first among countries in the world in terms of social media use, with a score of 9.55/10.

The UAE is the most connected country in the world, not just on social media, with a connected score of 7.53/10. According to research compiled by the business Proxyrack, the UAE ranks highly in practically all areas, including internet usage, social media platforms, fixed broadband subscriptions, mobile cellular subscriptions, and the proportion of the population utilising the internet.

Furthermore, the survey indicated that people in the United Arab Emirates spend approximately 7 hours and 29 minutes per day on the internet, while South Africans spend the most in the world, nearly ten hours per day, more than any other country.

In this article, we discuss the media landscape in the UAE in more detail. Read along as we cover the following points:

Regulator Of Media In The UAE

The UAE media environment is repressive, ranking 119 out of 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

There are two regulators at the federal level, namely:

  1. National Media Office: The National Media Office (NMO) is a new media organisation tasked with expanding media in the UAE at the national level and enhancing the UAE's standing as a vital regional and international media hub. NMO will promote collaboration across the UAE's numerous media offices and ensure that Emiratis in higher positions in the media industry have media leadership capabilities.
  2. Media Regulatory Office: The Media Regulatory Office (MRO) in the UAE manages and regulates media activities and media-related free zones. Operating under the Ministry of Culture and Youth, MRO teaches and upskills Emirati media talent, develops and organises the duties of official spokesmen, represents the UAE at media conferences and events, and performs media research.

Whereas several bodies regulate the local media in UAE, including:

  • Abu Dhabi Media Office
  • Media Office – Government of Dubai
  • Creative Media Authority - Abu Dhabi
  • Department of Culture - Sharjah
  • Sharjah Government Media Bureau
  • Fujairah Culture and Media Authority

Regulatory Framework For Media Activities In The UAE

All media institutions in the UAE that create audio, visual, print, and digital content must adhere to the media content requirements outlined in Federal Law No. 15 of 1980 Concerning Publications and Publishing, as well as other applicable laws and regulations.

Federal Law No.15 of 1980 Concerning Publications and Publishing governs the licensing and activities associated with printing and publishing in the UAE, and it applies to printed media content such as newspapers, magazines, television broadcasting, audio media such as radio, and digital media content.

The law establishes criteria for forbidden materials from being published. It also includes penalties imposed on the publishing firm and its employees if they are found to be in breach of the law. 

This legislation includes provisions for:

  • Circulation of publications
  • Publishing houses, printing presses, and publications
  • Imported and exported publications, newspapers, and newsletters
  • Content prohibited from publication
  • Newspapers, periodic publications, and news agencies
  • Films and other related work
  • Penalties

Prohibited Media Content In The UAE

According to Federal Law No. 15 of 1980 Concerning Publications and Publishing, certain types of content are prohibited. These include:

  • Criticism of the UAE President and the rulers of the emirates
  • Instigation or offence against Islam or the country's system, or anything else that could jeopardise the UAE's larger interests
  • Opinions that violate public morals or offend youngsters, or that advocate for or support the adoption of damaging ideas
  • Any material that aids in the commission of crimes, incites hatred, or sows discord among members of society
  • Without authorization from the competent authority, news of official secret communications or military affairs is not permitted. Furthermore, unless with special permission, it is not permitted to publish the texts of agreements or conventions concluded by the Government before their publication in the Official Gazette.
  • Any material with ill faith or any distortion to the procedures of sessions, deliberations, or public sessions of courts or regulatory bodies in the State
  • Any material that includes shame against the President of an Arab or Islamic country or any other friendly country
  • Any material that includes disgrace against the President of a friendly country
  • Any article that falsely accuses Arabs or misrepresents their civilisation or tradition
  • Information about an ongoing criminal investigation if the investigating judge has ordered that the investigation be kept confidential or if the Public Prosecution has forbidden the dissemination of such information
  • News, images, or comments about someone's private life, even if they are factual, are considered an insult to the person or people mentioned
  • Any fake news, fabricated or counterfeit documents, or information falsely ascribed to third parties
  • Any material that has the potential to harm the national legal tender or raise uncertainty about the country's economic status
  • Phrases, photos, or drawings that are offensive to public morals or may mislead the audience
  • Unless otherwise authorised by the appropriate authority, material about medications or pharmaceutical formulations
  • Opposition to the actions of a public employee, a public representative, or a person appointed to a public service
  • Report/s on a subject involving many parties that do not include quotes from all parties involved

Growth Of Media In The UAE

Modern mass media outlets didn't start to show up in the UAE until the 1960s. In 1966, Abu Dhabi Radio became the country's first official broadcast radio station, and in 1969, Abu Dhabi Television became the country's first television channel. Throughout the decade, several weekly newspapers were printed in Beirut and sent to the region.

Al-Khalij, the first Emirati daily newspaper, was founded in Sharjah in 1970, a year before the official foundation of the UAE. Following this event, efforts were made to extend media output across the Emirates to cater to the diverse population.

A television station was created in Dubai in 1972, followed by station 33 (or Dubai 33) in 1977, which was primarily aimed towards expats. Over the decade, more daily newspapers, including English-language ones, arose in the Emirates, most of which were privately owned.

To accommodate the rise of new outlets, the Ministry of Culture, formed in 1972, built a comprehensive terrestrial transmission network for television and radio in the 1970s and 1980s.

The UAE officially institutionalised media rules in the 1980s, with the enactment of the Press and Publications Law in 1980. The broadcasting landscape in the UAE evolved dramatically, beginning in the 1990s. With the expansion of satellite television, Emirati broadcasters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi proliferated and began to broadcast material to international audiences.

Concurrently, the number of local radio stations rose in tandem with advancements in the country's communication network.

The establishment of the UAE's first ‘media-free zone’ (MFZ) in Dubai in 2002 was the most significant event in the country's broadcast media history. These are places where foreign media outlets can operate and generate material for overseas audiences tax-free, as long as they follow local laws and the MFZ's regulatory standards. 

The UAE currently has four MFZs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, and Ras al-Khaimah, which have contributed to the country's transformation into a regional media hub popular with foreign broadcasters such as the BBC, CNN, AFP, and Al-Arabiya.

However, local officials were quick to exercise control over the country's internet usage, forming the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) in 2003 to restrict websites deemed harmful to Emirati political or moral standards.

Largest Media Companies In The UAE

The majority of domestic UAE media outlets are owned and operated by the state-owned Abu Dhabi Media and Dubai Media Incorporated.

According to the World Economic Forum report, the UAE is now the world's 26th most networked nation. It is only slightly ahead of Qatar, the highest-ranked Arab state.

The top media companies in the UAE are:

  • MBC Group
  • Augustus
  • MiclnGrace Studios
  • FFG Sports Management
  • Dubai Parks and Resorts
  • Orbit Showtime Network (OSN)
  • Novo Cinemas
  • Arab Media Group (AMG)

Here is a list of some of the most common channels through which the UAE population consumes media:

  • Press
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Internet and Social Media

Press in the UAE

According to the Oxford Business Group, the UAE boasts some of the highest press circulation rates in the Gulf, with 56% of literate citizens reporting to read a newspaper every day.

Although ownership remains concentrated among the country's big media organisations, the press landscape has grown to include 14 daily newspapers. Furthermore, Emirati print journalism is generally subordinate to the government and ruling family due to the country's harsh publication rules.

The circulation of the most important domestic publications in recent years has been as follows:

NewspaperEstimated Daily Circulation
Gulf News104,000
Khaleej Times90,000
The National80,000 - 90,000
Emarat al-Youm80,000
Al-Khaleej37,000 - 60,000

Radio in the UAE

According to a 2016 Ispos Connect study, radio is a popular medium in the UAE, with 78% of respondents aged 15 and up claiming to listen to the radio regularly.

An earlier Ipsos study, done in 2009, discovered that radio stations affiliated with the Arabian Radio Network (ARN), which is a subsidiary of the Arab Media Group, dominate the most-listened-to broadcasts.

The most popular music stations in the UAE are:

  • Virgin Radio Dubai (Western contemporary music)
  • City 101.6 (Bollywood)
  • Al-Arabiya 99.0 (Arabic music)

In addition, the English-language channel Dubai Eye 103.8 is the most-listened-to station in the UAE for news and conversation programming.

Television in the UAE

According to a survey conducted by the UK-based market research firm TNS Global, the UAE has one of the highest television watching rates in the world, with 86% of respondents reporting watching television at least once a day.

Television transmission, like the rest of traditional Emirati media, is concentrated among a small handful of media businesses with either direct government affiliations or positive relations with the ruling family.

All terrestrial broadcasters are subsidiaries of larger conglomerates including Abu Dhabi Media, Dubai Media Incorporated, and Sharjah Media Corporation. The vast majority of Emiratis, on the other hand, prefer to watch some of the hundreds of channels available to them via foreign satellites.

The following are the most prominent domestic broadcasters in the UAE:

Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI)

A company controlled by the Dubai government that was founded in 2003. It is in charge of Dubai TV, a rebranded version of the Emirate's initial station, which debuted in 1974. It primarily broadcasts entertainment programming in Arabic, however, it also broadcasts religious content on occasion.

Sharjah Media Corporation

Established in 2009 as a government agency to manage Sharjah media transmissions. Sharjah TV, which was launched in 1989, is currently under its ownership. Since its start, the channel has strived to serve Emiratis and expatriates by broadcasting programs in Arabic, English, and Urdu, with a primary focus on Emirati culture and national affairs.

Al Murad Group

Based in Ajman, this company is in charge of Ajman TV, which debuted in 1996. The station broadcasts in Arabic and English and primarily targets family audiences with its entertainment programming.

Emirates Media Incorporated (EMI)/Abu Dhabi Media

It was established in 1969 as a government-owned umbrella media body to handle the transmission of Abu Dhabi TV, the country's oldest television channel. It provides a combination of news, current events, and entertainment programming.

Since its inception, Abu Dhabi TV has given birth to other sister channels, including Abu Dhabi Drama and Abu Dhabi Al Emarat, which focuses on local and national news as well as social and economic trends.

Internet And Social Media in the UAE

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) implements the Internet Access Management (IAM) Policy in collaboration with the region's licensed Internet service providers, NMC, Du, and Etisalat.

This policy comprises various frameworks as well as categories connected to the internet that these providers must take into account to safeguard the security of the internet from hazardous websites that provide materials that are contradictory to the UAE's ethical and religious principles.

As the UAE embraces the digital change in the area, social media apps and websites are no exception. Understanding the various social platforms that are rapidly becoming a way of life for individuals in Dubai is critical in making commercial inroads in the region.

Tip: Here you find more detailed UAE social media statistics.

Always Stay on Top of UAE Media with Meltwater

The UAE's current media ecosystem includes various local Emirati media agencies as well as big foreign news providers that coexist in a cosmopolitan setting. However, because of the restrictive media legislation in place since 1980, this environment is also characterised by self-censorship and government supervision, and its conditions are deteriorating.

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