Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
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Despite vibrant coverage of international news by its flagship satellite television channel, Al-Jazeera, the Qatari government continued to restrict all media from reporting on news critical of local authorities. The government professes to respect freedom of the press, but aside from selected constitutional provisions, such as Section 47, there are no laws that protect media freedom. Journalists are forbidden from criticizing the government, the ruling family, or Islam and are subject to prosecution under the penal code for such violations. The 1979 Press and Publications Law is administered by the criminal courts and provides for jail sentences for libel or slander. By law, all publications are subject to licensing by the government. The law also authorizes the government, the Qatar Radio and Television Corporation, and customs officers to censor both domestic and foreign publications and broadcast media for religious, political, and sexual content prior to distribution. According to the U.S. State Department, several Qatari writers reported that articles they had written—particularly ones deemed critical of the government—which were published outside the country, were deliberately banned in Qatar. Media watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres reported that all journalists must now have judicial permission to cover court proceedings following a decision issued by the Supreme Judicial Council in October. In a positive step, however, Qatar was the only country to abstain at a February meeting of the Ministers of Information of the Arab League from approving a new charter to control and censor satellite channels and transmissions.
Although there were no reports of physical violence directed at members of the press during the year, journalists faced multiple forms of intimidation. Disparity exists in the application of press legislation between Qatari and non-Qatari journalists, who represent the majority of media workers in the country. While local journalists often receive warnings and threats when pushing the limits of permissible coverage, noncitizens employed by Qatari media outlets risk facing harsher measures, including termination, deportation, and imprisonment. As a result, self-censorship is reportedly widespread. All foreign journalists working in the country must be accredited by the Qatar Foreign Information Agency and sponsored by a local institution or the Information Ministry. However, journalists in compliance with these rules can still be barred from entering the country. In November, Qatar officials denied entry to French journalist Aurelien Colly to cover a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Qatar has seven newspapers that publish in either Arabic or English and are owned by either members of the ruling family or businessmen with close ties to the ruling family. The state owns and operates all broadcast media, and there are only two television networks in the country, Qatar TV and the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. While Qatar TV broadcasts mostly official news and progovernment perspectives, Al-Jazeera focuses its coverage on international topics. As a government-subsidized channel, Al-Jazeera refrains from criticizing the Qatari authorities, providing only sparse and uncritical local news. Programming on the local radio station, on the other hand, is more accommodating to voices critical of government services and operations. The concentration of media ownership within the ruling family as well as the high financial costs and citizenship requirements to obtain media ownership licenses continue to hinder the expansion and freedom of the press.
Thirty-two percent of Qataris used the internet in 2007. The government censors political, religious, and pornographic content through the sole, state-owned internet service provider. Both high-speed and dial-up internet users are directed to a proxy server that maintains a list of banned websites and blocks material deemed inconsistent with the “religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the country.”