Monday, May 18, 2015

18-May-15: Peeking behind Qatar's genteel, manicured and increasingly disastrous public relations

Doha, Qatar: Bright, shiny, wealthy, healthy, happy, sunny, with good teeth
and getting better and better all the time [Image Source]
Ever true to the bureaucrat's favourite crutch, "The best defense is an offense", Qatar’s Government Communications Office has rushed into action today following the BBC report about which we posted earlier today.

After Mark Lobel of the BBC was brought to Qatar for a visit arranged by, for, with and because of the government of that odd place, and handcuffed, arrested and interrogated before being thrown into one of its prison cells (see "18-May-15: As the Qatari thug says, Disneyland it's not"), Qatar has now responded.

The official statement comes from Saif Al-Thani, described as the head of Qatar’s Government Communications Office (and note that almost anyone in a position of power or privilege in Qatar is called Al-Thani, including the eighth and current emir whose family has ruled the place as if it were a private plantation since the mid-1700s). Here it is in full:
Earlier this month the Government of the State of Qatar organized a press tour for reporters from the UK, Europe and the region that was designed to provide a better understanding of the challenges Qatar is facing – and the progress it is making – on the issue of migrant labour. The Government Communications Office invited a dozen reporters to see – first-hand –some sub-standard labour accommodation as well as some of the newer labour villages. We gave the reporters free rein to interview whomever they chose and to roam unaccompanied in the labour villages. In addition, we arranged a roundtable discussion and one on one interviews with the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery and the Director of Workers Welfare at Qatar Foundation. Perhaps anticipating that the Government would not provide this sort of access, the BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries. Security forces were called and the BBC crew was detained. The journalists who took part in the press tour were given an opportunity for a comprehensive look at the problems Qatar is facing, and the progress the government and the private sector are making to address those problems. They saw some of the worst labour villages, and some of the best. The BBC was meant to be part of that tour, and would have been if they had not chosen to break Qatari laws. Once the BBC reporter and his crew were released from detention, we tried to help them get the basic elements for the story they had missed. While the full program could not be duplicated, a separate one-on-one interview with the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare was arranged and they were able to tour a modern labour village. We hope it is clear from this detailed account that the problems that the BBC reporter and his crew experienced could have been avoided if they had chosen to join the other journalists on the press tour. They would have been able to visit – in broad daylight –the very camps they tried to break into at night. Reporters from the Associated Press, AFP, the Guardian and Le Monde have filed stories on what they saw and heard in Qatar, and we invite interested readers to review their reports, which are available on-line. By trespassing on private property and running afoul of Qatari laws, the BBC reporter made himself the story. We sincerely hope that this was not his intention. Moreover, we deeply regret that he was unable to report the real story, which is that the government and the private sector are making significant progress in efforts to improve the lives and the labour conditions of guest workers in Qatar.
Under the inspired headline "Qatar responds to BBC reporter's arrest with truly deluded statement", a news site belonging to Independent UK adds today that the Qataris are
basically admitting that the BBC crew were arrested for nothing more than journalism, raising further serious concerns about Fifa awarding the World Cup to a country where homosexuality is illegal and human rights are severely limited.
Lobel of the BBC tweeted right after the Qatari retort to simply say
I'm not expecting much but an apology or just return of my phone would be nice. [Twitter]
Over at, they write today that
FIFA, which has been repeatedly criticised for the way Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, said it was investigating the arrests...
But at Buzzfeed News, where they have their feet planted on the ground, they quote FIFA's spokesperson today who says:
...the general rules of the respective host countries should be respected by media when it comes to filming and gaining the necessary permissions.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen: that thing about arresting reporters after you fly them in and house them in your hotels; about taking away their phones and computers and liberty; about imprisoning homosexuals because under Qatar's laws it's illegal; about getting arrested for filming without permission; about incarcerating foreign visitors because they were witnesses to someone else's traffic incident; it's all a matter of respect.

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