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UAE court fines TV for shelving Saudi prince interview

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Dubai appeals court has upheld a verdict ordering Saudi-owned television channel Al Arabiya to pay 100,000 dirhams ($27,230) in compensation to a Saudi prince for failing to air an interview with him.

The court said the Dubai-based channel had failed to adhere to a media code of ethics and damaged “the social status” of Prince Saif al-Islam bin Saud bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud when it advertised but did not broadcast the interview.

“The defendant flew the prince in to Dubai, recorded the interview, advertised that the interview would be broadcast, but that did not happen for unidentified reasons,” the verdict said.

Prince Saif al-Islam, a novelist some of whose work is banned in Saudi Arabia, had initially sought compensation worth 500,000 dirhams, claiming the incident had “inflicted emotional, moral and social damage” to him as “an academic and a royal”.

Al Arabiya said the interview, filmed in 2008 for the channel’s flagship current affairs programme “Ida’at”, was pulled because it was “not up to standard” and the channel will publish a full transcript on its website to prove this.

“The interview was nothing special, there was nothing new in it ... Just because he is a prince doesn’t mean he has the right to have his interview broadcast,” Nasser al-Sarami, head of media at Al Arabiya, told Reuters.

The decision to stop the show was not an act of censorship on its part, Sarami said.

The prince is a son of former Saudi King Saud who was deposed in 1964. He recently published a novel which discusses the sensitive period in Saudi history.

Press freedom in the United Arab Emirates came under international scrutiny last year when the advisory Federal National Council approved a draft law setting fines of up to 5 million dirhams for infractions by the media.

These include “disparaging” President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan or rulers and deputies of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, as well as harming the national economy, the country’s reputation or relations with foreign countries.

The draft prompted civil society and rights groups, as well as academics and journalists, to make rare calls for Sheikh Khalifa to veto the bill, which is awaiting his approval.

But the law will not apply to free zones, where international media including Al Arabiya are based.

The verdict can still be appealed at Dubai’s Court of Cassation. Sarami said Al Arabiya would consider this option.

Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Louise Ireland