New UAE legislation regulating "Media Content"- digital media now firmly within regulatory scope In July 2017, the UAE Cabinet issued Resolution No. (23) of 2017 Concerning Media Content (the Regulations), which came into force at the end of August 2017. What's new? The UAE has consolidated its laws regulating media content. Previously, these rules had been spread out across a number of different laws and resolutions, but now the Regulations codify a complete set of mandatory rules for all types of Media Content. The Regulations bring about 3 key changes: Specific regulation of digital media - the vast array of digital media offered by OTT providers in the UAE (such as e-books, music streaming services and on-demand film and TV) is now clearly within scope of national content laws and subject to censorship and pre-approval by the National Media Council. The NMC is expressly entrusted with actively regulating media in the digital / electronic space, having previously focused mainly on hard copy sales of items like books and DVDs. A stricter playing field - the legislation indicates that tolerance levels for media content in the UAE are at an all time low. We may see a period of increased scrutiny over online compliance, as the newly formed 'Website Censorship Committee' adopts a more wide-spread and pervasive approach to blocking non-conforming websites. The role of NESA - this is the first piece of legislation that actively acknowledges the role of the National Electronic Security Authority on the Website Censorship Committee. Up to now, the activities and responsibilities of NESA had been unclear. Application of the new Regulations The Regulations specifically aim to regulate media content within the context of "Media Activities", which are broadly defined as "any activities relating to the production, transfer, broadcast, distribution and transmission of the printed, digital, audio and visual information, including activities of press, print, audio-visual broadcasting and film activities, and any other relevant activities specified by the [National Media] Council." For more on the Regulations including a summary of content rules, requirements for a NMC permit and age classification rules click here. Conclusion The new Regulations do not bring about much tangible change to the regulatory landscape, generally consolidating the UAE's existing content rules and licensing requirements. The key takeaway is that digital media is now very much in scope, when previously it had been subject to somewhat "light touch" regulation (in practice at least). 2 Nonetheless, despite the seemingly stricter regulations, it is still to be seen how this legislation will play out in reality. The legislation does not address the issue of enforcement against offshore OTT / media providers who deliver digital content to UAE-based customers via the internet, and whether such overseas providers could apply for a permit from the NMC without having a local presence in the UAE. Similarly, it is open to question whether the NMC truly has the capacity to review, censor and license each and every 'publication' currently on offer through the on-demand libraries of some of the largest media content providers, especially considering much of this content is already in circulation within the UAE via digital means without formal NMC approval. For more information, please contact Jonathan Shaw.