Pending legislation that would reframe how media in the country is governed is due to be approved by the Cabinet after Ramadan, Hamad bin Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari, Qatar’s Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage, has said.
Despite significant questions on how much media freedom the bill would actually guarantee, it was recently approved by the Advisory Council, Qatar News Agency reports, and Al Kuwari says it “will be the first of its kind in the Arab world.”
The biggest reform it would implement is the elimination of prison sentences for journalists during the course of their work, although possible fines of up to 1 million QAR would likely still discourage many from being overly critical of sources of power in the country.
Al Kuwari emphasized that the law has been researched and developed over four years and newspaper editors in the country were invited to weigh in on the issue. But as the Peninsula newspaper noted last week, clauses remain in the bill that stipulate journalists cannot critique “friendly” countries, the ruling family or other matters of “higher interest” for the state.
Significant questions also remain over the regulation of online publications. IctQatar has asked that websites and social media not be included in the new law, so as to not stifle innovation, but it remains unclear if that request will be granted.
Previous iterations of the law have also stated that print and electronic publications must be licensed by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, that editors-in-chief of those publications must be Qatari nationals, and that they must be approved of by the ministry.
Reports produced by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders routinely classify Qatar’s media environment as not free. And although we still haven’t seen a finalized version of Qatar’s upcoming legislation, many of the above clauses make clear that rating won’t be changing in the near future.
Credit: Photo by Ernst Moeksis