FIFA must not allow press freedom to be benched during Qatar World Cup

Appeal by RSF and unions of sports journalists on eve of kick-off

 

On the eve of the FIFA World Cup kick-off in Qatar on 20 November, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Union of Sports Journalists in France (UJSF) and the Swedish Sports Journalists Association ( SSF)call on FIFA – the International Association Football Federation – to ensure that freedom of the press is not excluded from this event. Media freedom violations during (or after) the tournament would be unacceptable.

FIFA promised on 15 October to “guarantee the best possible working conditions for the media participating in the tournament.” This promise has not been fully kept and must not be betrayed during the event. More and more sports journalists have said they are worried about being arrested, subjected to violence or even arbitrarily detained.

The Qatari authorities are imposing drastic and often arbitrary rules on journalists. Do they intend to set themselves up as referees of the truth, handing out yellow cards and designating red lines? The terms of the accreditation available to news organisations are very restrictive and are clearly designed to deter them from filming anywhere but inside the stadiums. The accreditations say journalists will not be allowed to film or photograph in “residential properties, private businesses and industrial zones” – precisely the places where violations of migrant worker rights have been reported.

In response to many protests, including RSF’s, the terms of the press accreditations have officially been relaxed, but their application is arbitrary, as seen in the constraints placed on some journalists, including a US journalist who was asked to delete his photos of the FIFA media accreditation centre.

Worse still, a media investigation found solid grounds for suspecting that Qatar has set up a system for spying on journalists and that it recruited hackers to break into the private email accounts of three reporters who had written stories criticising the Gulf emirate. In the past few days, as national teams have been arriving in Qatar, the situation has been tense and a Danish journalist was interrupted by security personnel in the middle of a live broadcast on a city street and was prevented from continuing to film.

After flouting human rights when building the stadiums, Qatar must not taint the World Cup by restricting press freedom. World Cup coverage is not limited to what takes place on the field. What’s happening in the stands and in the city, the atmosphere and the context are also covered. All this implies a freedom that many journalists fear they will be denied in Qatar. To bring this world event to life for readers, listeners and viewers, sports journalism requires no more and no less than what all journalism is all about – freedom.

Together with the UJSF and other sports journalists associations, we call on the Qatari authorities to respect journalists, to stop obstructing their work, and to lift the restrictions on photographing and filming in many places. And we urge FIFA to ensure that the undertakings it has given are respected.

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