Government censorship is a widespread practice in the United Arab Emirates. The primary reason for this phenomenon is that the country's culture stems from a deep-seated belief in Islam. For the UAE, Islam is not just a religion but also the core element that strictly regulates the cultural, social, and intellectual life of every citizen as well as of the whole country. The entertainment industry, including movies, is not an exception to the rule. Government censorship of movies deprives people of their right to choose.
Movies are one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the UAE. According to the survey, Entertainment media use in the Middle East, conducted by the Northwestern University in Qatar in partnership with the Doha Film Institute, cinema attendance in the UAE has the highest rates among other countries of the Middle East. Despite the increasing popularity of cinemas, all movies must first pass the censoring inspection, and then if they meet all current regulations, they can appear on screens.
Censorship typically results in the severe cut of unacceptable scenes or a complete ban on exhibition. In the UAE, any media content, including television shows and movies, is under control of the National Media Council (NMC), a government body. The NMC uses mainly two laws in its work. The first one is the Resolution No. 20 of 2010 on the Criteria for Media Content. According to this document, all media content, both audio-visual and print, must comply with specific requirements. The second one is the Federal Law No. 15, which covers all forms of content in the UAE. This Publications Law requires all media company to comply with the principles of Islamic beliefs and the cultural tradition of the UAE. Thus, the government with the help of NMC institution strictly controls the content of any movie in the UAE.
Although censorship is a widespread phenomenon, it is the highly questionable issue in the UAE. The major controversy arises between the role of the government as a regulator of content and access to it and the right of citizens to make their choice of content. According to the survey, the majority of Emiratis, namely 54 percent, agree that it is the responsibility of each person to avoid unacceptable content. On the contrary, 41 percent of Emiratis believe that the government should block objectionable content. On the other hand, 78 percent of respondents agree that interference of the government helps to produce quality entertainment. Overall, Emiratis have conflicting views on the existence of government censorship and its impacts.
Moreover, the efficiency of the censorship in cinema industry seems highly doubtful in the UAE. J. Khalil, an associate professor of the Northwestern University, criticizes the blacklisting of pictures, which only helps its marketing, and often makes it available in illegal ways. If officials cut some scenes or forbid some movies, anyone can easily find full versions on the Internet. The survey approves this statement with figures. According to the data, 81 percent of respondents from the UEA use YouTube service, mainly the movie channels. In addition, eight in ten Emiratis watch movies online. Despite strict control of the government over content in movies, its efficiency is questionable due to its limited impact.
Furthermost, censorship negatively influences the integrity of a movie as well as its fundamental idea. Emiratis, for instance, were frustrated when they found that the picture The Wolf of Wall Street was 45 minutes shorter than the original version. They claimed that sharp cut of scenes made the movie unintelligible. Overall, any changes of movies have a negative impact on their structure and meaning.
The workable solution for the censorship issue is to improve the censoring system in the UAE. A government body should examine the content of movies, and then classify them into different categories. If movies fully comply with Islamic traditions, censors can put them into the first category. On the contrary, if movies contain any morally harmful content, control body should divide them into two different classes. Firstly, they need to adjust content to Islamic requirements, cut unacceptable scenes, and mute profanity words. Edited movies should belong to the second category, called censored. The last category should contain initial versions of movies and have a corresponding marking, which indicates that these versions have unacceptable content. In this case, people have a possibility to choose what they would like to watch, original variants of movies or censored ones.
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This solution should fully satisfy the needs and desires of the UAE society. On the one hand, it is impossible to cancel censorship, since 81 percent of Emiratis say that government should do more to preserve cultural traditions and call for more censorship in movies. On the other hand, this practice should not deprive people of choice. A third of the respondents think that movies should be shown entirely. Furthermore, four in ten Emiratis say that some of the films and TV programs they want to watch are unavailable in their country due to censoring policy. Thus, censorship body should continue its functioning in movie industries but with adjustments.
Overall, due to deep-rooted Islamic beliefs and traditions, the UAE strictly controls any media content, including movies with the help of the government body, the National Media Council. Censorship of movies helps to preserve Arabic heritage in the UAE but at the same deprives citizens of their right to choose. The pragmatic solution is to find compromise between these two sides and improve censoring policy.