Censorship in Dubai: My experiences, as a Dubai born and raised 20 something

Censorship is a somewhat controversial topic in Dubai.

Which is why this is more of a tongue-in-cheek look at what I've experienced, being born and raised in Dubai. (There's a point I'm leading up to, you'll have to read on until the end to find out!)

Arguably the raciest thing on local Dubai TV in the 90's was the long running soap, The Bold and the Beautiful, yet not a single kiss was broadcasted over the course of its long, long run. It was pretty much all left to your imagination what happened between Brooke and Ridge. Makes you wonder how they ended up filming scenes of Brooke's wedding (was it no. 8? I lost count...) in Dubai and if the groom was even allowed to kiss the bride. (I'm sure someone rode in on a camel to interrupt the whole wedding anyway...)

The cast of B&B in Dubai just this year
Listening to the radio is mostly a fill in the blanks exercise. What's funny is that when you finally download and listen to the original uncensored version, you can't decide if you really like it.
Somehow sounds a bit better, doesn't it?
Movies are the most flabbergasting (flabbergasting, now that's a word you don't see too often!). I waited eighteen years to finally watch an R rated movie in Dubai. And when I finally did, everything was censored, which pretty much made it as G rated as, well, Puss in Boots, but even that wasn't good enough for Dubai.

Trying to research online for a topic that's a bit risque would be a landmine of trying to not see this on your screen:

So with all this in mind, you can say that everyone here is a bit over cautious when it comes to posting something online. 

For example, popular Dubai tweeter, @dubainameshame, began tweeting in 2011, naming and shaming bad driving and bad customer service in Dubai, however, was soon was curbed by Dubai Police when made aware of Dubai's strict libel laws which protect individuals and businesses against slander.

Even as an avid social media user, I've made a few mistakes; in real life, it's a lot like having foot in mouth disease where you think you're saying something completely innocent, and then realising you've said something completely inappropriate. 

Recently, while I was driving with a friend who's new to Dubai, she casually enquired, "What's with that yellow worm I see all over Dubai?" At first I was confused, but then I realised what she meant.
Modhesh, an anthropomorphised, constantly perky sun, mascot of the DSS (Dubai Summer Surprises)
I was amused and posted the anecdote on Facebook, tagging her.

A few hours later, she anxiously messaged me to take the post down, because it might be insulting to the creators (who, incidentally, are quite aware of the mascot's confusing appearance. Read more here.) I subsequently took the post down. 

Freedom of speech/freedom of the press is a constant query in the region, and there are laws and restrictions on what you can post and what you can't. Journalists are aware of the nuances in Dubai (not posting about alcohol drinking - it's done tactfully saying "sip of grape" or "have a few", for example), but what about the general public, people using social media, or clueless bloggers out there (me, mostly).

It's a matter of trial and error, but what if it's an error that brings a trial upon you? (Cheesy wordplay, please forgive me.) 

So a few tips:

1. It's a good rule of texting thumb to never swear on social media, or find more creative ways of doing so. 

2. If you spot a bad driver on the road, never post their picture online, send their details to Dubai Police directly. They have Lamborghinis, they'll be a lot faster at catching the crook. 

3. Look up the laws in Dubai, and brush up every now and then if you're an expat, or even if you're a local. Be a geek  good citizen.

4. Ask someone else read what you post before it goes out and if it's alright.

5. A good question to ask yourself is "Could I say that to my grandmother?" Another one would be, "Could I look someone in the eye and say this word for word and not cringe?"

6. But most probably, if you have to ask, it's usually not safe to post.

7. Social media attacks are kinda lame. Find something better to do with your time. 

8. It's freedom of speech, not freedom to be a d-bag.

9. Before chiming in, do your research, check newspapers, blogs and social media. You can get an idea which ideas are cray-cray, and which are sound.

10. Don't be afraid to speak! Ever! I'm proud of living in this city, you get to hear so many different ideas from different cultures; it shapes your world view in a much more interesting way than if we were constantly censoring ourselves and conforming to cookie-cutter statements.

So anyway, in retrospect, I can understand why the Modhesh post could have been taken the wrong way, but I'm still on the fence about whether it's really that bad. If it was posted about in Dubai's press, it clearly can't be that controversial, which prompted me to write this blog post in the first place.

I'm quite curious to hear your thoughts on the subject, you can talk to me on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below!

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