With reporting from Heba Fahmy
In the latest reshuffling of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF), the founding chairperson of the journalism advocacy organization has been replaced by the country’s culture minister, and a new acting director has been named.
The announcement was made on DCMF’s website yesterday in a brief statement.
The new acting director is Abdulrahman Nasser Al-Obaidan, who is an advisor for Qatar Media and previously held the position of general-director of the country’s radio and TV authority, according to Al Sharq.
The former chair, Moroccan Abdul Jalil Alami, once served as advisor to Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser and was previously an educational expert in the office of Qatar’s former Emir.
Along with heading DCMF’s executive board, Alami is believed to have played a role in the center’s day-to-day operations since its director, Jan Keulen, was fired in December 2013.
The organization – which under Keulen focused on helping distressed journalists abroad, media literacy in Qatar schools and training for professional journalists – has kept a relatively low profile in the last year as it operated without a director.
Some hope that the latest restructuring will spur the organization to play a more active role in promoting press freedom in Qatar, as well as strengthen the country’s position as a media hub alongside institutions such as Al Jazeera Media Network and the journalism program at Northwestern University in Qatar.
Speaking to Doha News this afternoon, Keulen noted that DCMF’s three-line press release made no mention of the organization’s future direction or of Alami’s tenure with the organization.
“From the beginning, when the center was founded, he was one of the key figures. I’m very surprised the way they announced (the changes) … (Alami) wasn’t mentioned, wasn’t thanked – nothing.”
Replacing Alami is Qatar Culture Minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari, who recently said foreign critics are welcome to express contrarian viewpoints in the country, as long as they did not “offend” Islamic values.
The minister previously held a seat on the four-person executive board as head of the DCMF’s advisory committee. The board also consisted of the director, deputy-director and chairperson.
Saleh Al-Shawi, who was DCMF’s financial director, and Maryam Al-Khater – who Keulen said served as deputy-director and was rarely in Qatar during his tenure – round out the new board appointments.
The DCMF said no one was available today to discuss the reshuffling, which Keulen noted concentrates “a lot of power and influence in media issues in the hands of a very few people.”
While noting that it is not unusual for a minister to have an important say in the operations of a government-funded organization such as DCMF, Keulen nevertheless said it was regrettable that there are not more cultural figures, journalists and intellectuals from Qatar and other Arab countries on the center’s board and advisory committee.
He said he visited Qatar late last year and that many of the training, media literacy and journalistic assistance programs that had been “flourishing” under DCMF’s previous leadership teams “were almost inactive.”
DCMF lists several activities it has undertaken over the last year, including offering assistance to distressed journalists abroad.
This includes repeatedly calling on Egypt’s courts to drop charges against three Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned for more than a year, issuing a report on the plight of journalists living in exile and providing safety training to Syrian journalists.
In recent months, the organization also strongly condemned the murder of a Japanese journalist by ISIL fighters and called for the “creation of a safe media environment for media professionals” and Muslim minorities following the Charlie Hebdo attack – along with urging media organizations to “avoid publishing provocative material.”
Keulen – who was criticized by some for not pushing harder for domestic reforms when he was in Qatar – conceded that running a media advocacy organization in a country that itself “has a lot of work to do” in promoting and strengthening the rights of journalists had its challenges.
“When you have a press freedom center in your country that draws a lot of attention, it implies some commitment. There are some contradictions there. All of us who have been involved in the center know this.”
What impact do you think DCMF could do to have a positive impact in Qatar and abroad? Thoughts?