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On Qatari media 29, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Opinion, Qatar.

It’s hardly a revelation that the newspapers in Qatar are in a poor state. Too often filled with Ministry press releases and utter fluff, they are used as an example of the double standard when it comes to Qatari media: mostly free if you discuss other countries; wholly emasculated on domestic matters.

An article delivered to my Google Reader about a certificate given to a Qatari employee at the Movenpick hotel prompted this post.

Ali Abbas Al Khanji, a Qatari national working as a Bill Collector with the Movenpick Hotel Doha since March 1 this year has scored a perfect attendance. As a Bill Collector his job is to deliver invoices to customers and receive payments from them on behalf of the hotel. He is also assigned to follow up on pending issues and notify the Credit Manager of any failed collections. On August 29, the hotel awarded a Certificate for Perfect Attendance to Al Khanji.

Is this news: a meaningless certificate given to an employee for not missing work in the – hold the phones – 6 MONTHS that he has worked there? Granted, the fact that he is Qatari and hasn’t skipped work is something of a story, but they don’t pursue this tack (can’t imagine why).

Non-stories like this feed the cliché about the duplicity of Qatar when it comes to the media. Some of the criticisms are true and just. There is very little domestic criticism for Qatari leaders to deal with. The newspapers in Qatar know their red lines and they do not cross them. Al Jazeera is frequently lambasted for its harsh, investigative and uncompromising reports on other Arab governments and their almost absolute silence on matters in Doha.

On this last matter I disagree.

Firstly, Al Jazeera’s audience is the Arab world and beyond. I’m not too sure how much they care about what goes on in Doha. Instead, the audience, I’d have thought, would prefer to hear about what is happening in Palestine, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These are far larger issues than Qatar and are thus covered far more.

Secondly, what exactly happens in Doha that is interesting? I like the city but aside from traffic, there seems to be relatively little to report: not much happens. Some argue that Al Jazeera did not cover the recent mooted coup attempts but these were little more than summer rumors in Saudi and Jordanian newspapers. What other ‘dirt’ is there that Al Jazeera does not cover in Doha? They way that critics lampoon Al Jazeera one would think that there are countless fascinating stories that they simply pass up. I’m just not sure that that is the case.

Thirdly, there have been a few documentaries critical of Qatar over their treatment of domestic workers.

Despite this robust defence, I do realise that after the return of the Saudi Ambassador to Doha in 2008, Al Jazeera was muzzled vis-a-vis KSA to a large degree. Also, their tone towards Bahrain has manifestly calmed down over the last decade and more. Nevertheless, I am still a defender (of sorts) of Al Jazeera.

As for those that see Al Jazeera as some kind of terrorism propaganda HQ, all I’d say is that, as Kaplan put it, ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit’.


1. Paul - 29, September 2010

“It’s hardly a revelation that the newspapers in Qatar are in a poor state.”

This applies to the rest of the GCC countries as well. Agree with your defense of Al Jazeera. I’m a huge admirer of shows like Inside Story and Riz Khan.

davidbroberts - 29, September 2010

Couldn’t agree more.

2. xoussef - 29, September 2010

Two things:

– Aljazeera English has completely different tone than Aljazeera. I’m not sure, but I think there must be very few people who produce or work for both..

– And what you said of the scarcity of news material in Doha is also true for a lot of other places in the GCC, that never stopped Aljazeera from digging what was available and irking neighbours.

davidbroberts - 30, September 2010

From what I know I agree with you on the first point.

There is some merit too to the second point. However, Qatar was known as ‘the most boring place in the Gulf’ for a reason. I suppose the best example for ‘your’ argument would be a comparison with Bahrain (?). On that point I think I would agree. While there is (perhaps) more newsworthy stuff there ‘full stop’ than in Qatar, there was, nevertheless, more coverage that it merited, especially in the first few years.

3. Paul - 30, September 2010

“Aljazeera English has completely different tone than Aljazeera.”

That’s interesting. I didn’t know. Could you elaborate?

4. xoussef - 30, September 2010

Yeah! I guess I was thinking of Bahrain. Probably, one effect would be that I’d have no qualms taking your word for Doha being‘the most boring place in the Gulf’, Manama would demand elaboration. I’ve never set a foot in either place by the way.

@Paul: For one thing, few programs get subbed or dubbed to be shown on the sister channel. That’s a waste of material, unless they are aimed to different, not necessarily compatible,viewers. Then there is the vocabulary, from the (mis)use of “martyr” and “martyrdom” to the once systematic (less so now)”what is [infer here”wrongly”]called terrorism”. Not to mention that I still have to see a guest calling another a traitor and barely restraining from strangling each other on air…

But I admit that my exposure to both Aljazeeras is usually accidental… Opinions here, not facts.

davidbroberts - 30, September 2010

Doha was once known by that cheeky little monkier. These days its better.

I can’t offer any overly weighty opinions on the differences between the two. From what I understand, the arabic version (unsurprisingly) has a large focus on the Middle East which inevitably becomes a larger focus on Palestine. Hence why Al Jazeera is so often seen as fanning the flames etc.

There are also some hugely entertaining shows on the arabic one. Al Itijad w al Muwakas (or something to that effect: This side and the other side) is a great watch. Two wholly antagonistic guests come on to discuss controversial topics. Fights breaking out are not unknown and shouting is practically de rigeure. Really good stuff. I’d be tempted to say that shows like this are part of the arabic versions ‘feistier’, and more provocative side, though I’d be interesting in other opinions…

5. Paul - 30, September 2010

That sounds brilliant. They should sub it and show it on the English network.
This explains Al Jazeera’s mystifying American reputation as terrorist sympathising.

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