BY SHABINA S. KHATRI
GLOBAL VOICES ONLINE
Citing clashes with the Qatari government, Robert Ménard and his team have resigned from the Doha Centre for Media Freedom.
“The centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work,” said Ménard, the centre’s director-general and founder of Reporters Without Borders. He and three others – the centre’s heads of assistance, research and communications – announced their resignations on Tuesday.
Though the nascent organisation, which opened in October 2008, will continue to operate, some Doha bloggers expressed skepticism about its capabilities. Qatari K Saleh writes:
The Doha Media Freedom Centre will continue to exist. However it’ll just be a shell. A heart without a soul. A head without a mind. What a pity.
On the Qatar Living forum, reactions to Menard’s exit ranged from shock and dismay to satisfaction and hope.
Commentator britexpat says:
Good move. Ménard was causing friction and perhaps didn’t understand the culture. I hope the centre survives and a new team is brought in to continue the work.
In his press release, Ménard highlights Qatar’s failure to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The agreement includes, among other things, a clause affirming a person’s right to freedom of expression, “regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
Raise your hands if you’re surprised. Anyone?? Without Ménard here, the Advisory Council may feel free to go to town with their new media censorship laws. It always seemed a bit preachy that a country that hasn’t ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is (was??) hosting an organisation like DCMF. Very embarrassing for Sheikh Hamad [bin Khalifa al-Thani, [Qatar's emir], at any rate.
TV network Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar and has been criticised for not covering the nation’s affairs as unflinchingly as it does the rest of the world’s, also factored into the forum’s discussion.
Such independent agencies are too early to take root in the region which is yet to turn fully democratic. Some may say Al Jazeera is here. But how much of Al Jazeera time is given to ‘Qatar’ compared to the kind of discussions they have on world political and social issues?
Some commentators brought attention back to the centre’s purpose, which is to provide physical refuge for threatened journalists, as well as to support freedom of the press by other activities.
As a Qatari, I wish our leaders keep the centre running and get modern law secures press, and speech freedom. Things take time, but our hopes are still so high. It’s not too hard to have someone understands Middle East, and Gulf culture, and keep pushing things slowly to free the press in Qatar.
For more on the discussion, visit Qatar Living.