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The UAE's Federal Decree-Law No. 55/2023 on the Regulation of Media (the "New Law") appears to herald a significant transformation in the regulatory framework governing media activities. 

This New Law not only replaces the preceding Federal Law No. 15/1980, but also introduces comprehensive guidelines impacting a wide spectrum of media operations including those in the digital realm. Hence, anyone (whether individual or company, based in the mainland or free zone) which engages in any form of print, audio, visual or digital media activity must take note. 

Like most new decrees in the UAE, we are expecting to see executive regulations to accompany the New Law within the next six to nine months that may contain additional clarifications and other requirements.  Entities have a certain amount of time to make sure they are following the New Law, its rules, and any decisions made based on it. This period will last for one year from when the New Law took effect, and it could be extended.

A key aspect of the New Law is the requirement to obtain the relevant licenses or permits, based on the specific form of media activities. This may necessitate operational changes for entities involved in digital media dissemination. The New Law introduces stringent penalties for non-compliance, encompassing administrative fines, possible suspension, temporary closure, or licence revocations.

While not explicitly clear, it appears that either the newly formed Media Council (the "Council") and other local government entities may be responsible for licensing, authorisation, supervision, and control of media activities and shall issue necessary licences or permits for the practice of media activities. This may be cleared up further once the executive regulations are issued. 

The New Law requires adherence to national standards, showing respect for Islamic beliefs, all religions, the country’s sovereignty, symbols, and institutions.  Compliance includes upholding the supreme interests of the UAE and its society. This extends to avoiding any actions that might have an adverse impact on the UAE’s foreign relations. Content that offends the legal and economic system, the judiciary, and against the interest of national security is strictly prohibited. This appears to enhance the Cybercrimes law that came into effect two years ago, which focussed on governing online content and behaviour. 

It seems that content moderation, online advertising and data management will need to adhere to the New Law. The New Law empowers the Council to issue permits to individuals, allowing them to provide advertising or media content on social media. The law also includes references to promoting and protecting intellectual property rights related to the media industry. 

For entities considering the implications of the New Law, here are some practical steps: 

  1. Understand the scope of media activities: Determine if your business activities (whether conducted abroad, in the free zone or in the mainland) fall under the definition of media activities as outlined in the New Law. This includes production, circulation, printing, and publishing of media content, as well as audio, video, and digital broadcasting.
  2. Compliance with Standards: Ensure that your media content adheres to the standards set by the New Law. You may wish to consider a closer inspection of content by your compliance teams before it is disseminated.
  3. Licenses and Permits: Ensure that you have the necessary permits for undertaking the activities related to media, especially if you engage in advertising or provide media content on social media or other digital platforms, obtain the required permits as mandated by the New Law.
  4. Oversight and Compliance: Understand that as a media entity, you may be subject to oversight and supervision by a competent authority, including potential surveillance and inspections. Have some plans and procedures in place to deal with these possibilities.
  5. Protection of Intellectual Property: Collaborate with the Council (or other authorities, as the case may be) for the protection of intellectual property for individuals and companies.