Thursday, 18 July 2013

Taking Pictures & Videos in the UAE - A Cultural Issue

There's been an uproar in the UAE in the last few days with regards an incident where an Emirati man was recorded on video attacking another driver.  The Emirati says he attacked the man because he drove after a minor accident and once he caught up to him, he did what he did and a lot of us saw it on YouTube with a video recorded by another motorist.

The motorist as it turns out has now been arrested for recording a video without knowledge of the Emirati man and this is against the law in the UAE.  The contention of Dubai Police is that the motorist who recorded the video shouldn't have shared it publicly, rather he should have given it directly to the police.

In this post, I'm not debate the merits of the case or passing any judgement here but rather talking about sensitivities that exist in this region with regards taking pictures or videos.  I've managed a photo studio and a business that distributed minilab equipment to other studios so I've been how culturally sensitive the topic of photo and video can be.

In the studio business that I used to manage, we used to do a lot of event photography and video recording.  When it came to doing events which were women-only, we had to ensure we used female photographers.  We also used women to do the editing and post processing of videos and pictures.  Even in our own studio where we had our own minilabs installed, we had to ensure that any screens, monitors or printers we had were positioned in such a way that no one other than our staff could view it.

Even at events where there were men or men and women, we've had to be sensitive as to which pictures were being taken as someone people are clearly not comfortable being photographed.  We have the respect the culture we're in and why this can become an issue.

For the minilab equiment business I ran, I remember we contemplated distributing photo kiosks that could be used within retail establishments or other public areas.  The problem that we could never get our head around was how do we supply this and yet protect the privacy of the person who is using the kiosk.  It is very easy for a passerby to see what was on the screen of the kiosk or what was being printed.  In short, we decided not to actively pursue this business.

I can understand why the laws state that taking pictures or videos without permission is illegal if seen from a cultural stand point.  There are though a whole host of cases where the validity of this law may be challenged as in this case.  We've all got our own opinions as to whether this is valid and while I'm not saying whether I support it or not, I just think we need to see both sides of the argument before passing judgement.

In case you're not aware of this case, this post from Alex Malouf nicely explains some of the background to this incident.