In March 2018, the UAE National Media Council (the “NMC”) issued a new set of regulations for electronic media that govern all online activities, including e-commerce and advertising (the “NMC Media Regulations”).
The NMC Media Regulations build on Cabinet Resolution No. 23 of 2017 Concerning Social Media Content (the “Media Resolution”) published in July 2017. The NMC Media Regulations apply to all commercial activities conducted through social media in the UAE.
Whilst the NMC Media Regulations do not apply to personal websites and bloggers, they do apply to social media influencers who run any online business activities, including the advertisement and/or promotion of brands done on a paid basis.
New licencing requirements
In accordance with the NMC Media Regulations, social media influencers are now required to obtain a licence from the NMC to continue such activities. The deadline to ensure compliance with the NMC Media Regulations was the end of June 2018. Failure to comply with the NMC Media Regulations may result in a range of penalties, including fines of up to 5,000 dirhams (c. US$ 1,400); the shutdown of their social media accounts (and any related websites or blogs); and/or the issuance of an official warning against the user.
Under the NMC Media Regulations, social media influencers are required to obtain an e-media licence (granted for a period of 12 months) and a trade licence to operate as a business. According to the NMC, over 500 e-media licences have already been issued.
Impact of regulations on UAE social media influencers
The NMC Media Regulations have been met with positivity by many prominent UAE social media influencers, in particular, that the NMC Media Regulations provide a legal framework to govern this previously grey area.
The new licencing requirements have led to influencer agencies offering to cover the cost of the requisite e-media licence in return for exclusivity from a signed influencer. Whilst signing up to such agencies takes care of the licencing requirements, to the extent they are in a position to do so, influencers may wish to obtain their own licence to maintain the freedom to choose the brands they wish to work with and retain 100% of the commission.
There is a concern that the new regulations may result in a drop of “micro-influencers” (i.e. part-time influencers that have another form of employment in the UAE) as they are not able to afford the e-media licence fee. Whilst such “micro-influencers” will still be required to request a no objection certificate from employers (a requirement in the UAE for employees whose visa is sponsored by their employer) the option to sign up to an influencer agency (and therefore be covered by its e-media licence) means such micro-influencers can continue to operate. However, the terms of such agreements may put off some micro-influencers, which may result in a shortage of legitimate (i.e. registered) influencers that has the potential to, in turn, drive up the costs of engaging duly licenced influencers.
In terms of the requirement for influencers to make it clear when content is paid advertising, the Media Resolution is clear on this point. In accordance with article 19, “all paid advertising material must be explicitly and clearly stated as paid advertising material.” From the perspective of an influencer, to ensure compliance with article 19, hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored in all instances of paid advertising posts should meet the requirement.
Lastly, the Media Resolution and NMC Media Regulations help ensure that content posted across all media platforms in the UAE respects the religious cultural and social values of the UAE. Accordingly, the Media Resolution and NMC Media Regulations set strict standards for media content in the UAE, which include a restriction on the publication, broadcast or circulation of images that violate the integrity of public morality.