The Emir, His Highness, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, declared the media free in the country in 1995 and with the launch of Al Jazeera, we have shown the world that Qatar is a country which allows different opinions to be heard.
We were, therefore, quite surprised by the outcome of a debate in the Advisory Council on Monday, which called for stringent punishment to be given to Qatar-based journalists who write against the ruler, national security, religion and the Constitution.
First of all, all the above subjects are already protected by the Qatari Law. Second, we must remember that there is a provision in the Qatari Constitution which allows its revision at a future date by the next generation. We have a saying in Arabic which roughly translates into English as ‘one generation cannot control another’. By raising this debate, the Advisory Council has made a generalised conclusion without addressing the issue directly.
We find it strange that the Advisory Council, made up of Qatari nationals, has this kind of opinion when His Highness The Emir has given us the freedom to voice our opinion on issues freely and in a fair manner.
We are concerned as a Qatari newspaper that if these restrictions are imposed on Qatari journalists, they will be afraid to report news and events as they see them. Needless to say, the impact on foreign scribes here would be too deterring.
I am an avid reader of local newspapers. None of them has ever written anything objectionable against the four subjects referred to in the Advisory Council debate. The Advisory Council, I am afraid, has failed to address the issue of irresponsible journalism. Other nations will find it strange that a country which advocates media freedom through the establishment of Al Jazeera will condone such practice. If there is any misuse, it shouldn’t be generalised. Doing this would soil Qatar’s image in the world.
Given this backdrop, we urge the authorities concerned in Qatar to come up with a new Media Law that would protect the freedom of our journalists, especially as the old press legislation was enforced years ago, in 1979.
Khalid Abdul Rahim Al Sayed is the Editor-in-Chief of The Peninsula