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Journalist expelled for being critical warns over UAE ownership

'What fate would befall journalists in papers they own who make far more potent points?' asks Anna Somers Cocks
‘What fate would befall journalists in papers they own who make far more potent points?’ asks Anna Somers Cocks
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A journalist has revealed how she was expelled for criticising the royal family of the United Arab Emirates as she cautioned that Telegraph journalists would not be able to talk freely in the event that an arranged takeover by the Gulf state went ahead.

Anna Somers Cocks, the co-founder of the Art Newspaper, encouraged the Government to block the takeover as she talked about how they made her a “non-person” in striking back for the troublesome scope of the UAE.

RedBird IMI, which is 75 per cent funded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the vice-president of the UAE, is attempting to take control of The Telegraph and its sister magazine The Spectator.

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, has ordered Ofcom to further investigate the attempted takeover amid concerns about editorial independence, to which RedBird IMI says it is “entirely committed”.
Writing in this week’s Spectator, Ms Somers Cocks recalled being asked by Abu Dhabi in 2009 to create an Arab version of the Art Newspaper after France and the UAE agreed to create the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum.

A pilot edition was well received but Abu Dhabi “immediately” cut off negotiations in 2009 after Ms Somers Cocks gave a televised interview in which she said the UAE having separate pavilions for Dubai and Abu Dhabi at the Venice Biennale risked confusing the public.

Talks resumed two years later, however, and by 2017 the Art Newspaper had produced a magazine to mark the inauguration of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, containing interviews with French and Emirati figures behind its inception.

However, the entire project was dropped after Ms Somers Cocks printed articles in the London edition covering the poor working conditions of the South Asian labourers who built the museum alongside a review of a book revealing offsets from arms sales helped fund the project.

Recalling the moment she learned of her departure, she wrote: “That was it. My hotel telephone rang early in the morning. ‘Your services are no longer required’, I was told. From then on, I was a non-person.”

She added that an “appalled” official arranged for her to meet with the director of the UAE’s culture and tourism department, who was unconvinced by her claims she could not just publish “unalloyed praise” of the regime.

Ms Somers Cocks continued: “Given the Emirati royals reacted so drastically to such minor criticism, what fate would befall journalists in papers they own who make far more potent points?

“My mistake was to think a free publication was ever possible under an absolutist government.”

“I am breaking my silence because I hope it will nudge the UK government towards this fairly obvious conclusion – it must not fall for the promise that some formal independent board will remove this risk.

“What happened to me in the relatively herbivorous milieu of art will apply ten times over in the savage world of politics, conflict and finance.”

Ms Somers Cocks enjoyed a career as a high-profile curator, including a stint at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, before founding the Art Newspaper in 1990.

More recently, she has been focused on supporting a number of arts-related causes including the Venice in Peril Fund, which raises money for monuments, buildings and artworks across the northeastern Italian city amid rising sea levels.

Seventy-three MPs including a Cabinet minister and frontbenchers from both major parties are known to oppose the sale owing to concerns about press freedom.

Prominent critics of the planned sale include Sir Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative Party leader, and Alicia Kearns, the chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee.

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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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