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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Local papers, Doha Centre for Media Freedom clash in war of words


Incensed by criticism made about Qatar’s media scene during a recent Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) event, local journalists are responding with scathing editorials criticizing the centre and demanding its director qualify his remarks.

Tensions between the center and some Arabic-language journalists rose last month when Al Arab’s head of the Investigative Reports unit published an op-ed calling DCMF a “squander of public money” and questioning the qualifications of many who work there:

The Research Programme Manager (Dutch) was appointed with no consideration to her lack of experience and has done nothing since her employment. She’s suspected to be a very close relative of the centre’s Director given their physical resemblance! 

In remarks made during the center’s World Press Freedom Day event on May 1, Director Jan Keulen made reference to the criticism, saying Qatar’s media scene needed improvement and that investigative journalism and analysis are missing here.

Those comments have sparked a war of words between the center and at least two Qatar newspapers. 

In an op-ed published last week, the editor-in-chief of Al Sharq demanded Keulen qualify his remarks:

We do not want (Keulen) to give us “rhetorical” lectures or to drop his “background” and prejudgments on Qatar’s media. Though he has been living in Doha for more than a year, he is eligible to properly evaluate the reality of media and put his hand on the “wound” instead of making general comments.

In short, he asked for evidence of local media shortcomings based on research, rather than general remarks and judgement.

Al Arab published a much harsher critique, resorting to ad hominem attacks on the center’s staff and their nationalities – including a reference to Doha News co-editor Omar Chatriwala, who does some consulting work with the Centre.

Keulen asserted today that he stands by his statement that Qatar’s media scene would benefit from improvement:

It certainly wasn’t my intention to condemn all local media as unprofessional. I stick wholeheartedly to the observation I made when I arrived a year ago, that Qatar does have great professional journalists

…But I also stick to my observation on May 1 that there are certain imbalances in the way journalism is exercised nowadays in this country and that there is absolutely room for improvement. After being here for over a year and having intense contacts with local journalists I noted, for instance, a lack of investigative journalism and reporting ‘from the ground’.

Keulen, who’s been at the helms of DCMF since it relaunched last year, is clearly a far cooler cucumber than his predecessor, Robert Menard, who left abruptly in 2009 after clashing with the Qatari government.


Credit: Photo courtesy of Doha Centre for Media Freedom

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