Advertising to children can be treated differently when compared to adults from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, therefore it is important to know the laws. In this article we explore advertising to children in the UAE.
1. In the UAE are children treated differently compared with adults in terms of advertising?
- The Federal Law No 15 of 1980 on Printed Matters and Publications (the "Publications Law") contains the following restrictions applicable to all types of publications, including advertising :
Article 72 prohibits the publication "of any opinions breaching public morality, insulting young persons or promoting subversive ideas".
- In addition to the foregoing, the UAE National Media Council ("NMC")1 issued Resolution No 35 of 2012 on the Standards of the Media Advertisement Content (the "Advertising Standards") aimed at consolidating the principles set forth under the various pieces of legislation addressing advertising content, and also introducing new rules. Under the Advertising Standards, which apply to advertisement on any media whatsoever, any "publication of content offensive to children" is prohibited (Article 4).
- The NMC's Advertising Guide2 reiterates the above by stating that all advertising content shall "avoid disseminating information that harms or abuses children and women [...]".
- Apart from these general advertising guidelines expressly referring to children, there are no restrictions under UAE laws specifically addressing children related advertising topics such as advertising to children, use of children in advertisements or placement of advertisements in programmes or on websites/social media accounts targeting children.
Also, the terms "children" or "young persons" are not defined under the Publications Law or the Advertising Standards.
2. Must we consider how our ads are targeted when advertising products unsuitable for children?
At the outset, in the UAE, it is prohibited to advertise the products listed below, which all appear to be products unsuitable for or dangerous to children:
- The Advertising Standards prohibits the advertising of alcoholic beverages, narcotic substances, tobacco and smoking of any kind (and related goods or services) (Article 4)3.
- In this respect, Cabinet Resolution No 24 of 2013 concerning the Implementing Regulation for the Federal Tobacco Control Act (the "Tobacco Law") provides that "Any establishment displaying, selling or wishing to display or sell tobacco or tobacco products must not display or sell tobacco or tobacco products in proximity to places displaying or selling food or health commodities and products, children's products and merchandise, or sports equipment and apparel".
- Also, both the Federal Law No 5 of 2012 on Combatting Cybercrimes and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) Policy on Internet Content prohibit the online publication of content in relation to illegal drugs, pornography, prostitution, unethical relations, gambling and similar activities (such as bets and lottery).
Apart from the prohibitions above, UAE laws do not contain any specific restrictions directly related to the advertising of products that are unsuitable for or dangerous to children.
However, the NMC's guideline pursuant to which all advertising content shall "avoid disseminating information that harms or abuses children" would apply in such a situation.
Also, as a general guideline when it comes to such products, brands and advertising agencies shall bear in mind that, under both the Publications Law and the Advertising Standards, advertising content shall not contain obscene pictures or words and, more generally, shall not be contrary to public morals and public order.
In addition to the foregoing, it is important to note that Islamic Shari'a law is a main source of the UAE legal system and therefore any form of advertising must adhere to the Shari'a principles of moral and fairness.
3. What must we consider when advertising to children on social media?
- UAE laws and regulations do not contain any specific rules in relation to advertising to children on social media. However, the NMC's Advertising Guide includes a set of special conditions applicable to advertisement on social media, which therefore apply to advertising to children on social media.
- In this respect, under the NMC's Advertising Guide, all adverts on social media must be clearly identified. As such, adverts on social media must be clear and borders must be placed between the advert and any other content. They should be labelled as "advertisement material" or something similar to identify them. Hashtags like #advertisement or #ad must not be accompanied by too many other hashtags as they make them harder to see. This disclosure should generally be made at the beginning of the content.
- Therefore, where advertisement on social media is aimed at children, it is best practice for the clarity of the nature of the content (i.e. an ad) to be stronger than for adults, in order to take into account that children are less likely to spot "subliminal clues" that a post is advertorial. This means that the inclusion of e.g. #ad should be yet more prominent than if the content is aimed at adults. In practice, this can be done by putting the disclosure at the beginning of a caption, and not featuring any other hashtags.
4. What other issues should we consider?
- Prior approvals: under the Advertising Standards, advertisements in relation to certain sectors require prior approvals from the relevel local authority. As far as children are concerned, all advertisements and marketing materials for educational institutions must be approved by the educational authority in the Emirate in which the provider is licensed.
- Penalties: Under the Publications Law, the violation of advertising content requirements may constitute a criminal offense leading to imprisonment sentences and fines. Under the Advertising Standards, the NMC may also apply other penalties, including fines. In addition, the NMC's Advertising Guide clarifies that the NMC may also delete or prohibit any content in breach of advertising standards.
- Licence: any person who practices advertising activities on a commercial basis and for any financial or non-financial consideration through social media must obtain a prior license from the NMC.
Written by Vanessa Delnaud and Isabella Hislop.
1. The body in charge of implementing national media policy and supervising all media affairs.
2. On November 2018, following the issuance of the Electronic Media Regulation (aimed at governing all online media activities in the country), the NMC issued an official advertising guide clarifying standards for content advertised in the UAE.
3. This is mentioned again in the NMC's Advertising Guide.
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