A British MP has accused the UAE's government-run news agency of making up quotes in support of the Gulf state's oppressive human rights policies.
Last weekend the Emirati website, Gulf News, published a story headed "British House of Commons praises human rights in UAE". In fact, the House of Commons had done no such thing, and the story was based on remarks claimed to have been made during a visit to the UAE by just two of Britain's 650 MPs.
Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, was quoted as saying: "The situation of human rights in the UAE seems to be good".
The source for the Gulf News story was the official Emirati news agency, WAM.
WAM itself published a similar story headed "House of Commons MPs laud UAE human rights record". It said the visiting British MPs "valued the UAE's commitment to respecting human rights" and claimed that another MP, Flick Drummond had said both the UAE and EHRA [the UAE's government-approved human rights organisation] were "moving on the right track".
The two reports were later deleted from the internet, as I reported in a blog post on Monday, but so far, neither WAM nor Gulf News has given any explanation for the deletions or issued any correction to the stories.
Yesterday, in response to a question on Twitter, Stephen Timms said: "The story is wrong and quotes made up. We visited EHRA and raised human rights with them, as well as with [the] foreign minister and others."
Alarmed by international criticism of their human rights abuses, the six GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – held meetings last month aimed at developing a united response to "distorted" reports. The Saudi-based Arab News described this as a policy of "zero tolerance on unjust foreign media attacks". A Kuwaiti official, Abdullatif al-Serayyea, said the counter-offensive "should focus on the rule of law, personal freedoms, and human rights that are held as sacrosanct in the GCC societies".
Judging by the Gulf News/WAM affair, it looks as if concocting favourable quotes about human rights from visiting foreigners may also be part of this effort to combat "distorted" reporting.
Bahrain has already been operating such a policy for some time, misrepresenting criticisms from UN officials and others in its official media to make them look like declarations of support. It does this even when the original – and accurate – versions of what was said can be found elsewhere (see here, here and here).
The other MP quoted in the Emirati reports, Flick Drummond, has so far not responded to a request to comment via Twitter. Ms Drummond is Conservative MP for Portsmouth South – a town which has become embroiled in a separate Emirates-related controversy.
It involves the Spinnaker Tower, a 170-metre structure intended as a tourist attraction, which in shape bears an uncanny resemblance to the Burj al-Arab in Dubai. The tower was completed in 2005 and cost £35.6 million ($50.3 million). This was well over budget and Portsmouth's taxpayers eventually had to contribute more than £11 million towards the cost of construction.
The tower can be seen in the background in Ms Drummond's Twitter profile photo.
Last year, Portsmouth's financial problem was eased by a £3.5 million sponsorship deal with the UAEs' government-owned airline. As part of this deal the tower was going to be painted red and white to match the airline's livery but protests broke out almost immediately because those were the colours of Portsmouth's local rival, Southampton Football Club.
Portsmouth Council and the airline eventually agreed to paint it blue, gold and white, with "emirates.com" in large letters on its side. Everyone is now supposed to call it the "Emirates Spinnaker Tower" (but please don't).
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 6 April 2016