Though it is home to Al Jazeera, Qatar has long received low scores on international press freedom indexes because of its local media scene. These reports cite the fact that newspapers are often filled with advertorials, press releases and wire copy, and that important breaking stories are often ignored in print or on TV if they are deemed too controversial to cover.
The blame for lack of quality news in Qatar is almost always placed on the journalists who work for local news organizations. But longtime resident and JustHere Managing Editor Vani Saraswathi asserts that fault should also be taken with the system itself, which is full of cracks.
In a report written for JustHere, she interviews Andrea Busfield, a former deputy editor of the Gulf Times who worked here in 2008:
“I have worked in the newspaper industry for more than 15 years – for local and national newspapers in the UK, for NATO in Afghanistan and for the Gulf Times in Qatar – and I have to say, I found Qatar to be the most challenging in terms of retaining any sort of journalistic integrity… the constraints imposed on journalists are very real, and nothing I had come across before, not even in Afghanistan, compares.”
The constraints Busfield speaks of are many. One reporter tells Saraswathi:
“You can work as much as you wish on stories, but at the end of the day, the will of the editor or, worse still, the advertising manager will prevail. Forget social or political issues; we are not even allowed to comment on customer service in the leading banks or telecom providers in Qatar. They’d pull the advertisements if we did.”
The cycle of self-censorship is so vicious that journalists eventually stop trying, she added.
Some journalists interviewed said that change won’t come until Qataris themselves push for it, as most reporters here are expats bound by economic constraints. Several reporters who talked to Saraswathi also implored the Doha Centre for Media Freedom to take a more local approach.
“It just seems like a façade. And DCMF is more concerned about journalists abroad than those working here in Qatar,” one reporter said.
Journalists interviewed also called for more support from management, improved transparency and easier access to information from official sources, and clarity on media laws.
What do you think it will take to improve press freedom in Qatar?
Credit: Photo by Roger H. Goun