Qatar faces questions over press freedom



Tensions have erupted between the Doha Centre for Media Freedom and its political sponsors, after the Centre made a rare criticism of local media freedom in Qatar.


On the eve of last month’s opening of the Qatar Science and Technology Park – a flagship royally sponsored project – the centre sent an incendiary open letter to its sponsor, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al Missned, the wife of the emir.


In the missive, the centre lambasted the authorities for failing to issue a visa to an Afghan journalist before he was killed in the war-torn country. It blamed “people close” to Sheikha Mozah for doing their utmost to “disrupt our efforts, trying by all possible means to restrict our independence and our freedom to speak and act, and therefore our credibility”.


The letter highlighted the escalating tension between the centre – founded by Robert Ménard, formerly of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders – and its paymasters over the state of the country’s media.


Sheikha Mozah’s office declined to comment on the centre’s allegations, but the authorities have indicated that they will allow the formation of a journalists’ trade union and will ratify the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which deals with freedom of opinion, expression and information.


However, the centre is frustrated with the sluggishness of the authorities, and will leave if Qatar does not pass an improved press law, says Mr Ménard.


(5 April 2009)



Analysis and forecast (↑ increasing risk)


Qatar has been trying to portray itself as a regional haven for press freedom. The government sponsors Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s main and most open news channel. The Doha Centre for Press Freedom was sponsored by the wife of the Emir of Qatar to provide guidance and a haven for press freedom in the region. Qatar is also trying to host other media organizations, in competition with neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


However, Qatar’s local media laws are very strict and local media, including Al Jazeera, rarely criticize or comment about local Qatari politics. The most recent eruption of tensions between the Doha Centre and Shaikha Mozah, not only highlight the issue of press freedom in Qatar, but also threaten to damage the credibility of Qatar as a viable location for press freedom. This also damages Qatar’s overall position within the Arab world.