A wealthy Gulf emirate, Qatar has built a media empire whose impact is felt throughout the Arab world and beyond. But covering domestic political issues remains a real challenge for journalists.
Qatar’s traditional press is distinguished by the homogeneity of its coverage, with the same front page headlines reporting the official activities of the emir and his inner circle. The Al Jazeera TV news channel is known across the world. A small seed of pluralism can be found in community media outlets written in different languages and run by expatriates, such as Doha News.
The media’s editorial line is closely linked to the existing political climate. During the Arab Spring, coverage of the popular uprisings was closely aligned with Qatar's official position. In 2017, coverage was shaped by the blockade that the Gulf states had imposed on Qatar, while later it was shaped by the restoration of diplomatic relations.
Qatari journalists are left little leeway by the oppressive legislative arsenal and draconian system of censorship. Its victims have included the Doha News website, which was closed in 2016, although later allowed to reopen. A cybercrime law adopted in late 2014 and reinforced in 2020 imposes restrictions on journalists and criminalises spreading “fake news” online.
The state-funded Al Jazeera TV news channel has considerable resources and a pool of presenters who are paid well enough to ignore subjects that could embarrass their employer. Some of their star presenters are extremely popular in the Arab world.
Qatar has a majority immigrant population, which is reflected in the diversity of journalists working for Qatari media outlets. But the conditions of immigrant workers, in particular those employed at the 2022 World Cup construction sites, is completely off limits in Qatar. Al Jazeera English has devoted some reports to this subject, but the same cannot be said for the parent company, the Arabic-language section. Religion, the emir’s personal life, women’s rights and LGBT rights are also all off limits.
Several journalists have been arrested and jailed, or even deported – in most cases for taking too close an interest in the working conditions of immigrant workers. The authorities do not hesitate, if necessary, to convict bloggers who are local residents of “disseminating false information”. This is how the blogger Malcolm Bidali was detained for a month before being deported to his country of origin, Kenya, after paying a fine.