QATAR: Media Permits No Big Deal?

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – There’s one story in Qatar that has seen little coverage, despite the fact that it affects the country’s news media. A Qatari ministry introduced new reforms in the start of 2017 that mandate new permits for anyone working in the “press and publication,” according to an announcement printed in local papers. Aside from a short article on Saudi network Al-Arabiya and on Doha News, the reforms have received little attention.

Doha News has a reason to report on the new licenses. In December 2016 its website was blocked in Qatar for apparently not having the appropriate licenses.

This raises concerns over censorship. Most newspapers and media in Qatar are state-run or have strong connections to the government and therefore are unlikely to publish anything criticizing the government. Although Qatar’s censorship laws are not as strict as some other countries in the region, many journalists there practice self-censorship.

Doha News, on the other hand, is independent and more likely to publish articles criticizing the government or commenting on local politics. However, they have not faced any risks like arrests or censorships. Unlike with the numerous foreign journalists arrested in Qatar in recent years, the Qatari government is much more lenient with its own citizens and is more likely to give a few warnings before taking serious action.

The concern is that these stricter permits could be mandatory in a country that is home to Al Jazeera. The Doha-based news organization has its virtues and flaws but has always been willing to report on controversial topics. However Al Jazeera reports mainly on Arab and global news, and even in Qatar, avoids local issues.

The licensing laws may have little effect on Qatari media. All of the major newspapers are likely to have all their papers in order thanks to government connections, and even Al Jazeera is likely to remain safe since it is a massive company and can afford to go through the bureaucratic process. Doha News isn’t beholden to anybody else and independent journalism is rare in Qatar.

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