The sorry media scene in Qatar

 09 May 2013 - 2:04


What are the changes that have taken place in the Qatari media?

The World Press Freedom Day was an opportunity to openly discuss the condition of media organisations in Qatar; to put the past aside and talk about the present and future prospects. Nevertheless, unfortunately, a forum organised by Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF) focused on individual experiences rather than analysing policies, practices, legislation and strategies.

I do not blame DCMF; rather I blame the whole media system—journalism and the audiovisual outlets. Their weak and substandard output has been unable to bring about any substantial change in the media’s working environment. We should break all ties with the past to overcome the problematic present and make use of the breakthrough that has taken place in the wake of the Arab Spring.

What does the media scene look like?

There is nothing new, as the situation has not changed much. I will use the same term I used to describe the media situation last year: the ‘Chinese foot binding’ approach still marks Qatar’s media industry.

This unhealthy approach has created a serious predicament, wherein one foot (local journalism, official radio and television) has stopped growing, while the other foot (international media outlets like Al Jazeera and its subsidiaries) is free. As the first foot can barely walk, it is not fit for a race or a marathon.

The situation has remained nearly frozen for a long time, as there is no new legislation to regulate the media, raise the ceiling of freedom and establish new, competitive newspapers. 

The fate of a media bill is unknown. No one knows when the new media law will appear, or what kind of amendments have been made in it, or how much freedom will be allowed, or how it will regulate modern media such as electronic publications. 

The publications law, which dates from 35 years ago, is still in force. This law focuses on penalties, fines and jail terms. Moreover, there is no code of ethics or an umbrella organisation for journalists, such as a syndicate or a union.

Censorship is common in some newspapers, the state-owned television network and other media organisations, with countless red lines and taboos. 

Many questions regarding the media’s independence and credibility have been raised since the Ministry of Information was dissolved a decade ago. 

Is the current media situation satisfactory? Is the present media situation fine? Is everything all right?

In the past, we used to depend on Western and Arab indicators, reports prepared by media freedom monitoring centres, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders. Today, the situation is slightly changed as we can rely on reports, surveys, seminars and studies conducted locally, thanks to private institutions and universities conducting such studies. Recently, one such study was done by a researcher at Northwestern University in Qatar. The study said traditional media are in retreat and social media networks are booming.

Another study has been conducted by Dar Al Sharq and it will be published in a book in the coming months. The study found that social media rank second after news channels and ahead of local newspapers and state-owned radio and TV, which rank at the bottom of the list.

However, the findings of the Northwestern University study have been a great surprise. On the sidelines of a forum on the media industry in Doha, the survey revealed that the popularity of Al Jazeera channel was falling in the Arab Spring countries. 

The channel’s popularity has dropped to four percent in Bahrain, nine percent in Tunisia and 20 percent in Egypt, compared to the beginning of the Arab Spring.

A total of 10,000 people from eight Arab countries (Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates) participated in the survey, which took over four months.

It was an attempt to discover how people in the region were using news media following the Arab Spring. 

Google search is the most popular source of news, according to the survey. Al Jazeera topped the list in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, but ranked at the bottom of the list in other countries. 

Germany’s Der Spiegel commented on the survey, saying: “For over a decade, the Arab television broadcaster Al Jazeera was widely respected for providing an independent voice from the Middle East. It was independent in a region that was dominated by censorship. But over the past two years, it has lost much of its professional weight and glamour.”

Despite the decline in the media’s popularity, we have not reviewed the present situation to evaluate and improve the local media: journalism, radio and television, including Al Jazeera and its subsidiaries. The situation remains the same as before World Press Freedom Day. It has even worsened in some media organisations.

What a pity that some commentators in Qatar face an entry ban, deportation and even jail in some Gulf and Arab countries, even as the press and other media organs here turn a blind eye. This is the media scene in Qatar today, without any retouching.

 


What are the changes that have taken place in the Qatari media?

The World Press Freedom Day was an opportunity to openly discuss the condition of media organisations in Qatar; to put the past aside and talk about the present and future prospects. Nevertheless, unfortunately, a forum organised by Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF) focused on individual experiences rather than analysing policies, practices, legislation and strategies.

I do not blame DCMF; rather I blame the whole media system—journalism and the audiovisual outlets. Their weak and substandard output has been unable to bring about any substantial change in the media’s working environment. We should break all ties with the past to overcome the problematic present and make use of the breakthrough that has taken place in the wake of the Arab Spring.

What does the media scene look like?

There is nothing new, as the situation has not changed much. I will use the same term I used to describe the media situation last year: the ‘Chinese foot binding’ approach still marks Qatar’s media industry.

This unhealthy approach has created a serious predicament, wherein one foot (local journalism, official radio and television) has stopped growing, while the other foot (international media outlets like Al Jazeera and its subsidiaries) is free. As the first foot can barely walk, it is not fit for a race or a marathon.

The situation has remained nearly frozen for a long time, as there is no new legislation to regulate the media, raise the ceiling of freedom and establish new, competitive newspapers. 

The fate of a media bill is unknown. No one knows when the new media law will appear, or what kind of amendments have been made in it, or how much freedom will be allowed, or how it will regulate modern media such as electronic publications. 

The publications law, which dates from 35 years ago, is still in force. This law focuses on penalties, fines and jail terms. Moreover, there is no code of ethics or an umbrella organisation for journalists, such as a syndicate or a union.

Censorship is common in some newspapers, the state-owned television network and other media organisations, with countless red lines and taboos. 

Many questions regarding the media’s independence and credibility have been raised since the Ministry of Information was dissolved a decade ago. 

Is the current media situation satisfactory? Is the present media situation fine? Is everything all right?

In the past, we used to depend on Western and Arab indicators, reports prepared by media freedom monitoring centres, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders. Today, the situation is slightly changed as we can rely on reports, surveys, seminars and studies conducted locally, thanks to private institutions and universities conducting such studies. Recently, one such study was done by a researcher at Northwestern University in Qatar. The study said traditional media are in retreat and social media networks are booming.

Another study has been conducted by Dar Al Sharq and it will be published in a book in the coming months. The study found that social media rank second after news channels and ahead of local newspapers and state-owned radio and TV, which rank at the bottom of the list.

However, the findings of the Northwestern University study have been a great surprise. On the sidelines of a forum on the media industry in Doha, the survey revealed that the popularity of Al Jazeera channel was falling in the Arab Spring countries. 

The channel’s popularity has dropped to four percent in Bahrain, nine percent in Tunisia and 20 percent in Egypt, compared to the beginning of the Arab Spring.

A total of 10,000 people from eight Arab countries (Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates) participated in the survey, which took over four months.

It was an attempt to discover how people in the region were using news media following the Arab Spring. 

Google search is the most popular source of news, according to the survey. Al Jazeera topped the list in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, but ranked at the bottom of the list in other countries. 

Germany’s Der Spiegel commented on the survey, saying: “For over a decade, the Arab television broadcaster Al Jazeera was widely respected for providing an independent voice from the Middle East. It was independent in a region that was dominated by censorship. But over the past two years, it has lost much of its professional weight and glamour.”

Despite the decline in the media’s popularity, we have not reviewed the present situation to evaluate and improve the local media: journalism, radio and television, including Al Jazeera and its subsidiaries. The situation remains the same as before World Press Freedom Day. It has even worsened in some media organisations.

What a pity that some commentators in Qatar face an entry ban, deportation and even jail in some Gulf and Arab countries, even as the press and other media organs here turn a blind eye. This is the media scene in Qatar today, without any retouching.