How is the media landscape in Qatar? Is the regulation system encouraging freedom of expression? Is there a diversity of public, private and community media? Does the media reflect the diversity of society? Is there enough infrastructure to support independent media?
Here are some questions that a team of researchers trained by Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) and UNESCO will try to answer.
DCMF’s research department is aiming to assess the media landscape in Qatar through this study, which is the first of its kind. In order to conduct this project, researchers recruited by DCMF will use the UNESCO specific indicators called Media Development Indicators (MDI), as a guideline.
Media Development Indicators
In total, there are five categories of indicators used to assess media development. They are structured to develop a legal framework and regulation conducive to freedom of expression, to encourage plurality and diversity of media and transparency of ownership, to develop media as a platform for democratic discourse, to support professional capacity building, and to develop infrastructural capacity to support independent and pluralistic media.
These indicators were set by the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) of UNESCO. Research using the indicators has been carried out around the world. The organisation’s goal is to identify specific needs and to target actions to improve the quality of media for each country.
DCMF has started looking for researchers in Qatar who will be able to conduct this project. “We are looking for Arabic speakers who know the local media landscape,” said Roos Meertens, research department’s senior coordinator at DCMF.
In addition to the researchers, an advisory committee composed of media representatives, communications professionals, members of the civil society, NGOs and officials will be invited by the Centre to oversee and provide input to the project.
UNESCO will also make a contribution by organising a workshop in Doha with a media expert to prepare the researchers.
The MDI assessment was carried in two phases in Tunisia and Egypt but in all other countries there have been either rapid assessments (East Timor, Jordan, Maldives, etc) or in depth ones (Mozambique, Coratia, Ecuador) explained Saorla McCabe who is in charge of the MDI’s programme for UNESCO. Rapid assessments are usually carried out when there is an urgent situation requiring UNESCO to provide evidence-based recommendations on media development in a short timeframe.
However, in all other cases, UNESCO prefers to carry out an in-depth, participatory assessments, covering in detail all 5 categories of indicators, often in partnership with a credible, independent local media research institution in order to ensure national ownership of the process and to build the capacities of the partner institution to carry out such assessments in the future. .
This methodology developed by UNESCO has been implemented in Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia. In Tunisia, the research has been completed and the findings should be given by the end of September according to McCabe.
The Egyptian experience
In Egypt the study was launched just after the popular uprising that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak. During his 30 years in power, freedom of expression was seriously restricted. In spring 2011 just after the revolution, UNESCO decided to launch an assessment of the media landscape in the country by using the development indicators, as the situation and the timing were suitable said McCabe.
The first part of the research "quick assessment" took 6 months and many recommendations were presented during a series of conferences in the fall of 2011, among them: The urgent need to lift the state of emergency in effect for more than 30 years, the guarantee of freedom of expression explicitly stated in the constitution, better access to information, the interdiction of the government from suspending internet access and the creation of an independent body to control media.
According to the last news on press freedom in Egypt it seems that UNESCO’s first recommendations have not been taken into consideration by the new President Mohamed Morsi but the research "in depth assessment" is still ongoing.
On August 8, the government appointed several chief editors to run state owned newspapers, according to ANHRI (Arabic Network for Human Rights). Since these appointments the press has stopped printing critical articles and three independents newspapers, Al-Masry Al-Youm , Al-Tahrir and Al Watan have accused the Muslim Brotherhood (the ruling party) of exerting control over the media.
Moreover a TV channel, Al Faraeen has been suspended for a month and could be closed for good according to Reporters without Borders. The owner Tawfiq Okacha is charged with “inciting the president’s assassination and the government’s overthrow.” Okacha is known for being hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood.
By assessing the media environment, UNESCO knew that it would be a difficult task to modify or improve the situation there; the struggle for press freedom in Egypt is not over.
While Egypt’s media landscape is massive, and the country counts over 500 newspapers, Qatar has only seven newspapers, but the MDI assessment that will be conducted by DCMF here will remain the same.
From December, researchers selected by DCMF will start working on the study, which should last four months. According to Meertens, the study will give an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of media here in Qatar. “The recommendations will allow people working in the field of media development to improve the media quality in Qatar.”
All the recommendations will be presented during a conference to policy makers, officials and media professionals and they will also be published, she explained.
Mission of the research department
DCMF’s research programme commissions research into various issues related to press freedom and freedom of information in Qatar, the Middle East and the world. Through its projects the research programme informs the public, stimulates debate, and supports DCMF’s other programmes in their work for press freedom and quality journalism.