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UAE media firm receives heavy fine for breaching Ofcom rules

This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the tallest structure and building in the world, in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, during a government-organised helicopter tour [KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images]
This picture taken on July 8, 2020 shows an aerial view of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the tallest structure and building in the world, in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, during a government-organised helicopter tour [KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images]

UK media regulatory board Ofcom yesterday fined the UAE's Abu Dhabi Media Company PJSC, a total of £250,000 ($347.720) for serious breaches of fairness and privacy rules after airing two programmes about Qatar that did not meet broadcasting rules.

Both programmes were aired during the height of the diplomatic cries three years ago when the UAE, Saudi Arabia along with Egypt and Bahrain imposed a blockade on their Gulf neighbour. Last year, in a humiliating defeat for the blockading countries, the top UN court ruled in a 16-1 decision in favour of Qatar over the dispute.

One of the programmes, aired on 28 June 2017, by the Abu Dhabi Channel broadcast a documentary about Mahmoud Al-Jaidah and the secret organisation in the UAE, which reported on Qatar's alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood. The programme described the Islamist group as a terrorist organisation, and included footage of Dr Mahmoud AbdualRahman Al-Jaidah discussing his alleged involvement in terrorist activities.

Read: Qatar welcomes Ofcom censure of UAE's Abu Dhabi TV

Six days earlier on 22 June 2017, the same Abu Dhabi Channel broadcast a programme titled Confessions of Qatari Intelligence agent to damage the reputation of the UAE. It alleged that the Qatari Security Service was creating fake social media accounts and websites and using them to "slander" the UAE. The programme alleged that Hamad Mohammed Ali Al-Hammadi, a Qatari intelligence officer, was involved, and it included footage of Al-Hammadi speaking about himself and his role and alleged involvement in crimes against the UAE.

Both programmes breached Rules 7.1 and 8.1 of our Ofcom's Broadcasting Code. According to the guidelines, the first seeks to "ensure that broadcasters avoid unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or organisations in programmes" and the second seeks to "ensure that broadcasters avoid any unwarranted infringement of privacy in programmes and in connection with obtaining material included in programmes".

The sanctions followed Ofcom's decisions to uphold complaints made on behalf of Al-Jaidah Al-Hammadi by Rodney Dixon QC. Ofcom imposed a financial penalty of £125,000 ($173,000) on Abu Dhabi Media Company for each of the two programmes.

In its decision, Ofcom revealed that Abu Dhabi Media Company PJSC surrendered their only UK broadcasting licence with effect from 1 January 2021. It didn't confirm if the fine imposed on the UAE broadcaster and the surrendering of the license were related.

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