ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES- Qatar is going on the offensive in the media game. The country wants the world to know that it is keeping the World Cup and is looking to start a rebranding effort.
A Washington Post blog item published in May reported that 1,200 migrant workers had died on World Cup constructions sites. Outraged, the country’s officials accused the Washington Post of spreading misleading material. The government’s communication office issued a statement claiming that there had not been any deaths on a World Cup construction site. A month later a long clarification was posted alongside the blog stating:“The post should have made clearer that the figures involved all migrant deaths in Qatar. A report by Qatar’s government found 964 deaths of migrants from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in 2012 and 2013. Other groups have cited a higher number over a longer period of time.”
The Washington Post later claimed that the figure of 1,200 was the total migrant deaths in Qatar working on various projects, many unrelated to the World Cup. The newspaper said it was unable to verify the number of deaths directly linked to the World Cup although other Western publications like Britain’s The Guardian has made similar reports.
More and more, Qatar and its Arab allies are accusing Western media and critics of racism. Qatari newspaper Al Raya stated that yellow press and discredited politicians in the UK, US and Europe are running racist campaigns against Qatar. Essentially, the newspaper accused the West of being bad losers and refusing to accept the right of another to win. Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Al Missned, mother of the current Emir, called this hypocrisy and said that any criticism was part of a campaign by western media.
There could be some racism, however none has really surfaced, and there has not been a large scandal over racist remarks toward the Qatar. Human Rights Watch continues to monitor the condition of migrant workers. Even if the figures on deaths are questionable, abuses occur regularly, even on World Cup construction sites. Unfortunately, the government has not enacted any reform it has promised thus far. Human Rights Watch also stated “this is not about race, it’s about rights.”
Qatar has hired several public relations agencies to cultivate a positive image abroad and recently it created a new agency in its communication department to strengthen the message. It is staffed with graduates from local campuses of American universities, Northwestern and Georgetown. They argue that there has been definite confusion over Qatar, but Qatar isn’t going to give up and lose in the media game.