Making waves in the desert

Log onto any of the jobs sites for journalists and you will be awash with a plethora of recruitment adverts attempting to lure you away from the UK to ply your trade in the UAE, with the promise of creative freedom, ultra-modern surroundings and of course, tax-free income. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be, and can the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi really live up to the expectations of ambitious hacks?

Here we will look at the two regions in the UAE that are pulling out all the stops to seduce British journalists: Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai is currently the fastest growing city in the world and although it may not be the richest of the seven sheikhdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates, it is the most populated and the business hub. Since the mid-1990s Dubai has faced declining oil reserves and the Government has embarked on an ambitious programme to diversify its economy to replace the vast wealth generated from oil. And so far it has succeeded.

Indeed, Dubai currently attracts more foreign investment than any other Arab economy and enjoys one of the highest growth rates of 11 per cent annually, earning it the name ‘Mushroom City. And one of its most successful projects has been Dubai Media City.

Since its creation in 2001, Dubai Media City (DMC) has literally become a Mecca for the advertising, marketing and publishing industries all eager to capitalise on the rich – and somewhat untapped – pickings on offer in the region. As the name suggests, DMC is a dedicated media zone providing media organisations with – according to the city’s mantra – the ‘Freedom to Create’.

And not to be outdone by its neighbour, Abu Dhabi has also developed its own dedicated media sector just 75 miles further down the coast: the Abu Dhabi Media Zone. Abu Dhabi, for its part is by far the biggest and richest of the Emirates and is sitting on a vast mineral reserve. At current rates of production, it has more than 120 years’ supply of oil and gas still untapped yet much like its Dubai neighbour it is looking to move away from an oil-dependent economy.

Like Dubai, the Media Zone has succeeded in enticing the likes of BBC World, Reuters, Bloomberg, CNN and Associated Press to established regional offices there. But with stories of censorship rife in the UAE, how much has Government control over the press changed over this tax-free media zone?

Press censorship:

The UAE constitution guarantees freedom of the press but the content and editorial line of newspapers is still strictly controlled with clear boundaries regarding what can and can’t be written about. For instance, reports about domestic matters, the royal families, religion and relations with neighbouring countries are subject matters that reporters can write about, provided they sanitise their copy and take a diplomatic stance. However, that hasn’t always been the case.

In September 2007, two journalist from the daily Khaleej Times were freed by the Dubai appeals court after being sentenced to prison for two months for defamation of character. The journalists reported the story of an Iranian-born Dubai woman who divorced her husband and then been imprisoned.

And just two months later, the Dubai Government succumbed to continued pressure from Pakistan’s General Pervez-Musharraf to shut down two independent Pakistani TV channels that broadcast from Dubai – Geo News TV and ARY One World – shortly after declaring a state of emergency. Dubai soon permitted these channels to recommence broadcasting under certain conditions but the affair has seen the overall style of broadcasting on both of these channels dumbed down.

Similarly in Abu Dhabi, ccontrol of the media is in the hands of the National Media Council (NMC), which regulates the industry. Under its director-general, Ibrahim al Abed, part of its remit is to censor imported foreign publications which may contain subject matter which includes pornography, (including phone sex adverts), defamation of any of the ruling families or  material that is deemed insulting to Islam and any perceived criticism of the country’s rulers.

With the proposed relaxation of the press laws covering all of the UAE, Abed maintains that derogatory comments regarding the ruling elite will still be punishable. However, he said:

 “You can criticise the policies without naming the president. That is part of our culture.”

Compared to the British press, coverage of domestic news stories or certain international commentaries regarding any of Abu Dhabi’s allies is relatively tame. Indeed, in April, The National newspaper launched, promising to be the Wall Street Journal for the Middle East. But its journalistic freedom is limited.

Recently, it has reported on the absence of low-cost housing across the UAE, inflation and the traffic problems that regularly see the city brought to a complete stand-still. Yet it received a number of complaints from the business sector simple because, as Martin Newland, The National’s editor and former editor of the UK’s Daily Telegraph puts it:

“In truth, this country and the commercial operatives here have never been audited by the press,” said one foreign journalist. “We are trying, very slowly, to put that right.”

But hope for change is on the horizon following UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid-al Maktoum’s announcement that he was in favour of relaxed press laws, which will also prohibit the arrest of journalists. That said, criticising the Emirati royal families will still be a punishable offense.

Finding a job

There is an increasing demand for journalists at all levels to work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Gorkana.com and Jobs4Journalists.co.uk are two of the leading sources of current vacancies for journalists.

Income

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi are tax-free havens with booming economies offering workers salaries that are similar or higher than here in the UK. The Dubai Government, for instance, has offered financial incentives to encourage international media agencies to locate part of their operations to DMC. This has a double benefit for journalists contemplating relocation.

First, it is an indication of the region’s commitment to creating and establishing one of the leading media centres in the world. And second, are the benefits to be enjoyed by workers.

Typically, UK workers can expect a benefits package that will include higher net income thanks to zero personal taxes, paid travel expenses, health care, educational benefits for your children, and housing allowance or – in some instances – free housing.

Working environment

The fact that DMC was created in 2001 and the extreme lengths that the Government has gone to attract foreign investment means that the buildings in Dubai are built to an ultra-modern high specification. To put the level of investment into context, the World Bank suggests that the reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost $53bn. In Dubai, along the 25-mile strip of that forms part of the DMC, there is approximately $100bn worth of projects either underway or planned for the near future.

And although the level of investment in Abu Dhabi may not be quite so grandiose, the environment is equally as impressive, albeit on a smaller scale.

Finding a home

As it stands, finding a home is not an issue in Dubai. However, with the population growing exponentially, property experts are warning that there will be a chronic housing shortage by 2020. Many companies will provide accommodation for you. However, if they don’t you will need to find your own through a local letting agent and that typically involves paying a full years’ rent in advance or opt to buy your own property.

In Abu Dhabi, however, expats are not legally entitled to purchase property and over the last few years, rents have soared to almost 15 per cent higher than in Dubai. A typical two bedroom apartment currently costs about 80,000AED per year (£12,700GBP) to rent and three bedroom villas start upward of 180,000AED (£28,700GBP).

What are the positives about working in the UAE?

–          Over 75 per cent of the population are expatriates which creates a multi-cultural society

–          Ultra-modern housing and working environment with excellent leisure, retail and sporting facilities

–          No income tax

–          The world’s leading media outlets are increasing their presence in the region, including CNN, APTN, Reuters, BBC World, and Bloomberg

–          There are opportunities for journalists to take more senior roles than they have in the UK

–          And progression up the career ladder is usually quicker due to the smaller size of the media operations

And the negatives?

–          Accommodation can be costly if your company doesn’t provide it for you

–          The popularity of Dubai and Abu Dhabi has caused a strain on the respective infrastructure. Both cities have populations that have outgrown the size that they were originally designed to capacitate

–          Housing shortages mean that new-builds often fail to accommodate parking facilities, which can be inconvenient

–          The UAE is not the place for investigative journalists or those who like to tell it as it is. The style of writing is non-offensive, non-intrusive and arguably bland and uncontroversial

The media industry

In the past thirty years, the media industry in the UAE has grown from a handful of newspapers and magazines to more than a dozen dailies and hundreds of magazines and periodicals. Abdul Hamid Ahmad, editor of Gulf News, argues that although growth will continue, it will be marred by the existing lack of ‘openness’, ‘transparency’ and ‘press freedom.’  He said:

“I don’t see much progress in the matter of professional journalism, ethics of journalism and freedom of the press. These three aspects need to be addressed quickly, as the advancement on them is slow.”

The growing influx of international investment has brought with it technology and a knowledge base that has hitherto been lacking. CNN has recently increased its headcount in the region and the launch of The National earlier this year is a sign of the growing confidence and influence that the UAE is having on the world stage.

Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, director MacKenzie-Cummins Communications – leading the way in cost-effective PR for the recruitment industry.

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About yourcareermatters
CareerMatters was founded as part of MacKenzie-Cummins Communications in 2006 by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins MICG (Member Institute of Careers Guidance), regarded as one of the UK's leading career's advice and guidance writers and specialist PR consultant for the UK recruitment industry. Since 2006 Paul has been the leading advice writer for Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com - the two biggest careers website in the world -tackling all aspects of workplace and management issues, job seeking, career change and hiring trends. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 his writing contributed to Monster winning the Best Employment Advice on the Internet Award for an unprecedented three times beating the likes of The Guardian, Learn Direct and Personnel Today on each occasion. And his work was a runner-up for the same award in 2009. In 2009 Paul was a nominee in the prestigious HR Journalist of the Year Award and Recruitment, Retention & Motivation Journalist of the Year Award. Paul has been commissioned to write more than 500 careers advice and guidance articles for a number of lpublications, from regional and national newspapers to industry publications and various career-specific websites in the UK and USA. Recently, Paul was the Technical Editor for career psychologist Dr Rob Yeung's Job Hunting & Career Change for Dummies (John Wiley & Son, 2007). Dr Yeung is better known as the TV psychologist for Channel 4's Big Brother and the BBC's Who Would Hire You? series. Clients include: Monster.com CareerBuilder.com MSN Careers (Europe) TheLadders TotalJobs SalesTarget.co.uk IntaPeople Recruitment Lifetracks/YouthNET MediaSalesJobs The Press Gazette

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