An American media professor from Zayed University has had his contract terminated without notice and told to leave the UAE, provoking debate about the state of media freedom in the country and the possible reasons for his dismissal.
Dr Matt Duffy, who had worked as assistant professor of communication at Zayed University for two years, wrote on his blog on Tuesday that he had been informed of his termination during the summer.
His wife, an educational expert who worked at the Abu Dhabi Educational Council also had her contract terminated.
Duffy said that in both cases, the only information with which they had been provided was that the decision had come from “outside the organisation.”
However, the professor, who has now returned to the US, is convinced that his campaigning for increased media freedom through a number of initiatives has resulted in his termination.
With no explanation offered, it seems that his active and open expression has led to him being identified as someone no longer welcome in the UAE.
Duffy includes a copy of his termination letter on his blog, in which the university’s provost thanks him for his work in developing the College of Communication and Media Sciences.
“I felt I had a duty as an academic and professor at Zayed University to speak and teach with minimal reservation about my area of expertise—journalism, international media law and communication ethics,” noted Duffy on his blog.
Possible reasons for dismissal
Duffy was an active campaigner for media freedom, and he has suggested that any number of his activities might have led to him being identified as a threat and his subsequent removal.
On his blog, he has set out 18 things which may have led to his dismissal, ranging from columns he has written for local newspapers commenting on media-related issues, to hosting debates which touched on a variety of sensitive issues.
“All of these activities seem well within my duties and obligations as a professor of communications at a university with aims of being competitive on an international level,” he wrote.
“I appear to have discovered the limit of tolerance of academic discourse in the UAE,” added Duffy.
"Outpouring of support"
Duffy told DCMF that he had received an "outpouring of support" since people had found out about his dismissal, and said said that he was encouraged see that many young Emiratis had expressed their frustration at the government's actions.
The academic suggested that the authorities in the UAE must shift their perspective of the media and its impact on society.
"The security forces and leaders of the country shouldn't look at free expression as a threat to national security," he told DCMF.
"Technological advances are moving history toward more free flow of information and greater transparency," he said, adding "responding to this shift with repressive tactics only delays the inevitable and frustrates the people involved."
"All social change occurs over great time - I'm happy to have helped played a part in advancing the development of the UAE," he noted.
DCMF concerned at dismissal
Duffy has worked in partnership with the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, and the centre has expressed concerns at his sudden removal from his position in the UAE.
Director of DCMF, Jan Keulen said: “The UAE security forces have not given any reason for the forced departure of Dr. Duffy. But it seems a cold wind is blowing in the UAE with the detention lately of over 50 political activists, the closure earlier this year of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and other international NGO’s and now the termination of Matt Duffy.”
“It’s bad news for academic freedom and press freedom in the UAE,” he added.
Debate on media freedom in the region
Duffy’s dismissal and the questions it raises have led to a heated debate on social media websites about media freedom in the region and the value of educational initiatives such as those which the professor had introduced at Zayed university.
While many have expressed sadness at Duffy’s departure from the UAE, others have spoken about the need for a slower and more gradual approach to developing media in the country and the Gulf region, suggesting that the professor may have been pushing too hard, too soon.
Media watchdogs have expressed concerns about the government's control over the media in the UAE, and last month highlighted a number of cases of journalists, bloggers and activists being oppressed in the country.