Pornography, gambling and anything deemed to the inconsistent with the political, religious, cultural or moral values of the country is censored in the UAE. Censorship is practiced in the UAE throughout all the media communications.
Not having a global outlook on the overall effects of censorship on a nation, the limitations are not of huge consequence to myself, in fact the restrictions are nearly a welcome guest when raising two pre-teens with associated addictions to their lap-tops and all things online.
I can understand the irritation caused, when watching a blockbuster and the dialogue goes silent or when at the slightest hint of a steamy scene or nude clip the screen goes blank. Certainly a step further than the TV censorship of old where the dad takes the remote and switches channel for few minutes in order to allow the offending images to pass. Or the total ban on certain movies, like Brokeback Mountain, again not a massive problem for me as I don’t do cowboys anyway. All online gambling including dating and relationship websites are also banned. Again, duly married and not at present seeking extra-curricular stimulation this does not pose a problem for me. It is however good to know that arranged marriage websites are not banned, ironic, as surely an arranged marriage is the biggest gamble of the lot!
Oblivious, dis-interested and unaffected by censorship, I continued on with normal life in Abu Dhabi. My long awaited internet connection installed and a strong signal for Wi-Fi coursing through the house I felt secure in the knowledge that the world (if I wanted it) was once again just a few taps of the keyboard away. It was February 14th, the most important day of my year, my son’s first birthday. Humming with contentment as I busied myself creating the perfect baby bash for my little tot, I started preparation of the party food from scratch. I designed and discussed every detail of the birthday cake I wanted for my young son, with the lady who makes the cakes. I carefully chose from the costliest delicatessen, the choicest of hors d’oerves for the adult attendees. I defrosted the Irish cocktail sausages specially smuggled from Shannon and I selected the ingredients for my own handmade contribution, a 750g box of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and two large bars of Swiss cooking chocolate. Business was brisk, preparations were running smooth and the baby was strapped into his buggy in order keep his clothes clean for the party and for family and friends in Ireland, who would be dialing in to share in the celebrations. Eager to project the perfect happy family images together with the one hundred mini Rice Krispie buns handmade by myself, I set up the computer and logged on to Skype.
All was ready, the cake was delivered, the balloons floated tall above the heads of my little boys group of friends, Connor, Lauren, Maggie and Johnny, all chosen by me to represent the perfect cross-section of multi-cultural, racial and religious backgrounds. I like to call this steering his future not controlling his environment.
Turning to Skype I pressed the call button, the connection was patchy, making the sound unclear and the picture frequently freezing. Perhaps it was version of Skype, keying in the web address, skype.com a screen came up, “This site is blocked”, I turned to Viber, “This site is blocked” , censorship was ruining my party, sorry, baby’s party. Unwilling to pay the equivalent of a trip to Mauritius to phone Ireland from my Abu Dhabi mobile, I dropped the idea.
I since found out that Skype to Skype calls have only been permitted in the UAE since 2010 and the functionality to dial an outside line from the internet is prohibited, a fact that wouldn’t have stopped me pirating a program if it wasn’t broadcast earlier this week that a man was deported because he was calling Bangladesh via the internet. Confident that the same rule applies to those ringing Ballycotton or Bantry, I used my iphone to track a vendor in Umm AL Narr that sold international calling cards –how eighties! Next we’ll be back listening to Smokie and drinking Harp!.