Reporters Without Borders

Laid off for implicating Emirates Airlines

Laid off for implicating Emirates Airlines

Published on Thursday 29 October 2009. Updated on Friday 30 October 2009.
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The exclusive account of Courtney C. Radsch, a US journalist who recently lost her job at the Al Arabiya news website (www.alarabiya.net) in the United Arab Emirates for posting information about safety violations by the national air carrier, Emirates Airlines.

“ On Sunday Oct. 4 one of my reporters asked me if we could write about a report on safety concerns at Emirates Airlines following a report about pilot fatigue. Since the report was from a respected Australian paper based on a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) for a report from the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) and I assessed that the story was newsworthy and in the public interest. We sought and received a response from the airline which we featured in the lede and devoted an entire section of the story to. The story was on the site for about 4 hours before I received a call from Dawood al-Shirian, the manager of AlArabiya.net, telling me to remove the story from the site.

He provided no explanation and I refused to remove the story without a discussion about its merits explaining that to do so would compromise my journalistic principles. I have built a reputation as a journalist based on my professionalism, credibility and refusal to compromise on journalistic standards. I spoke with Nakhle al-Hajj, who had also expressed concern over the story, but was willing to discuss its merits. He asked me if I had spoken to a pilot or anyone else who could corroborate some of the issues in the report and I agreed to do so and add this to the story. I asked whether if I were to do that it would alleviate the need to remove the story. I interviewed an EA employee on the record anonymously who confirmed that fatigue among pilots and crew was a problem and that the airline was not adhering to the required rest time between legs and I added this to the story. I hoped that this would assuage Dawood’s concerns and attempted to call him 15 times, sent 2 text messages and an email but never received a response. He refused to take my calls and told the Arabic editor, when he called on my behalf, that he was in a meeting. I spoke to my Arabic colleagues and they explained that they had been told a few months ago not to publish anything about the airline. This had never been conveyed to me or my English team and I told them this. As it turns out the head of Emirates Airlines is also the head of the aviation authority and an al-Maktoum, a member of the ruling family. About 6 hours after posting the story I agreed to take it down out of concern for my and my fellow journalist’s personal safety (it was a dual byline story). We did not want to land in jail or be fined, which according to the new media law, was a real possibility. I decided that if Al Arabiya was unwilling to standup for what’s right and publish an important article that I was not willing to go to jail for Al Arabiya.

But an hour later we saw that Gulf News, considered a state mouthpiece that provides guidance on which stories are acceptable to publish, and Arabian Business had both published articles about the report and the airline’s denial. I called Dawood, got no answer, and texted him to let him know that other Emirati papers had published the story. I got no response. I wanted to put the story back up, but I did not have access to the CMS at home and did not want to ask my fellow reporter to put her neck on the line. The next day when I got into the office I emailed him to express my disappointment that a critical story with major pubic safety implications had not been published. The media plays an important role in putting the spotlight on companies that are not abiding by regulations or are cutting corners that put the public at risk. About an hour later I was requested to attend a meeting with Dawood and the head of Human Resource where I was informed that I had been “made redundant” effective immediately. They said the English website was being “restructured.” Less than 24 hours after publishing the story I had lost my job and have 30 days from the cancellation of my work visa to leave the country.

Residency visas in the UAE are tied to one’s job. Upon termination the employee provides the visa for cancellation to the company and is given 30 days to leave the country. If you have paid rent in advance – most landlords require rent be paid in one to four checks meaning that one has paid for at least 3 months at a time – then you will loose your money, since there is no protection for such cases and there would be no time to go to court“.

She left the UAE today.

Link to Courtney C. Radsch’s blog

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