Earlier this year, the UAE National Media Council ("NMC") issued the Electronic Media Regulation (the "Regulation") aimed at governing all online media activities in the country. The Regulation mainly introduced new licensing requirements for commercial digital media activities in the UAE. It also reinforces the obligation for all online media content broadcast across the UAE to comply with the local religious, social and cultural values.
The Regulation met with significant press initially, due to the impact on social media influencers. However, there was also a significant amount of questions regarding the scope of the licensing regime and its impact on businesses operating within the online arena. In recent weeks, some further clarity has been garnered from the NMC and so we cover this and the Regulation below.
Scope of application of the new licensing requirements
Who needs a licence?
Any entity/individual based in the UAE (either onshore or offshore) and performing any of the following activities, for commercial purposes:
websites used to trade, display and sell printed, video and audio materials (such as books, movie, music) ["media products"];
electronic publishing and on-demand printing (this includes digital publishing activities, platforms allowing online advertisement and promotion) ["media services"];
specialised websites such as electronic advertisements, news sites, etc.:
- According to the NMC, "electronic advertisements" includes influencers and bloggers as long as they are using online platforms to advertise third party's products or services for "commercial purposes", i.e. in consideration of payment (i.e. money or money's worth e.g. free products/services);
- For the avoidance of doubt, it does not encompass companies advertising their own products and services, which are not covered by the media products or media services, on online platforms, including social media platforms.
- The Regulation also allows for the NMC to amend or add to the above list at it deems appropriate in future.
The effect on social media influencers
There has been a lot of interest in the new Regulation due to its impact on social media influencers. As with influencers elsewhere, most influencers in the UAE are individuals who, through their reputation in the fields of sports, online celebrity, lifestyle or entertainment, have garnered a loyal following, and so brands are looking to use the influencers for marketing products.
The Regulation is aimed at protecting consumers, through ensuring that social media influencers are licensed for their activities, which in turn will bring about further legitimacy for such online activities.
It is important to note, that under UAE laws, any individual or company wishing to carry out commercial activities in the UAE, must obtain a trade licence. In many cases, influencers have been operating without a trade licence, or at least, without a trade licence which covers online marketing or similar services. The Regulation therefore looks to address this issue and also brings about a level of control around the "electronic advertisement" services being offered by the influencers.
The Regulation now requires that any and all social media influencers operating in the UAE are required to hold a NMC licence in order to continue offering their services to brands.
In practice, this means that influencers will most likely also have to obtain a trade licence if they want to be allowed to continue performing their online activities in the UAE.
Also, what this has now meant is that many marketing agencies operating in the UAE, who manage the interests of influencers, or brands, will now offer to influencers working with the agency on an exclusive basis, the ability to operate under their NMC licence.
However, for influencers who are not working on an exclusive basis, or who do not work through marketing firms, this will mean that the influencers will need to ensure that they have an appropriate trade licence, together with an NMC media licence for their online marketing and promotional activities.
The effect on other media companies
If you are a media company operating in a more traditional medium, such as print newspapers, the NMC licence you already hold for your traditional media work, will also cover any online media (for example, for the online version of your publication).
However, if you are a UAE based retailer selling or marketing products online, then you will need to obtain an NMC licence if you do not already hold one.
The main exception to this is if you are the local representative office of a global online platform, and you do not fulfil orders from the UAE, then you will not require an NMC licence.
With the current start-up culture in the UAE, particularly for tech and online companies, entrepreneurs who will offer media products or services within the UAE will need to ensure that in addition to their trade licence and other corporate governance steps to set up a new company/business, that they also now budget for and allow time to obtain their NMC licence.
Those caught under the scope of the Regulation at the time of its implementation had until June 2018 to comply with the new licensing requirements established under the Regulation in order to be allowed to continue performing their "electronic media activities". Due to the ambiguity over the scope of the Regulation, which the NMC has now looked to address, it has meant that some companies may have yet to take steps to obtain an NMC licence.
For companies operating within the "electronic media activities", and offering media products and/or media services, in the UAE, who have yet to apply for an NMC licence, then they should take steps to regularise their position as soon as possible.
The licensing process involves the submission to the NMC of an application form and supporting documentation as listed under the Regulation, as well as the payment of a licensing fee in an amount ranging from AED 1,000 (approximately USD 275) to AED 15,000 (approximately USD 4,100) depending on the activity at issue.
If granted, the licence is valid for one year and renewable for a similar period (against payment of a renewal fee in a range between AED 500 (approx. USD 136) and AED 15,000 (approx. USD 4,100).
Penalties for non-compliance
The Regulation does not expressly provide for penalties in the event of non-compliance with the new licensing requirements.
However, the NMC has announced that failure to comply would trigger fines, official warnings and/or shutdown of websites/social media accounts. Reports suggest that fines of AED 5,000 (approx. USD 1,360) could be issued against offenders.