Media watchdog under fire for ignoring Qataris

April 6, 2011

The Doha Centre for Media Freedom, an institution launched in 2008 for the stated purpose of supporting press freedom and providing refuge for threatened journalists, has come under fire from a Qatari daily for reportedly ignoring Qatari nationals.

The Peninsula on Tuesday blasted the centre after it announced that Jen Keulen, a Dutch national, would succeed Robert Ménard as its director.

“The new man at the helm, though well-qualified for the job, is again not a Qatari national, despite the fact that there is no dearth of Qatari journalists who are qualified and experienced enough to have been selected for the job,” the daily said.

“Appointing a Qatari, according to observers, would have been more appropriate as the centre’s professed aim is to fight for media freedom in a part of the world, the Middle East, which genuinely lacks it. As an observer of the local media put it, “the media in Europe is free so the journalists there do not have to, obviously, fight for freedom”.

Keulen, 61, is from a West-based organisation, “Free Voice”, which is similar to the one Menard belonged to, and eventually had differences of opinion with those who mattered here over how the centre should be run, the paper said.

The Peninsula report predicts a similar controversial end to Keulen’s stint at the centre “even though the journalist had worked for a prominent Dutch newspaper and had been based as a correspondent for many years in Amman, Beirut and Cairo, among other places”.

“Observers say that with Keulen in the saddle, the possibility of a similar situation arising cannot be ruled out unless his mandate is clearly delineated.”

Ménard, a founding member and secretary general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, had to leave Qatar in June 2009 following a series of clashes over the management and work of the centre.

The Algeria-born French director claimed that he left Doha “because officials stifled his freedom and that of the centre” and that the centre “no longer had the freedom or the resources to do its work”.

However, according to Jaber Al Harmi, the editor of Qatari daily Al Sharq, Ménard was “an ingrate who got his comeuppance”.

“Ménard lives in five-star style and insults Qatar… He abused power, made false claims about assistance from the centre to journalists and threw his weight around as if he were the oracle on media freedom,” Al Harmi wrote in 2009.

In its article, The Peninsula said the centre “has been in the throes of controversy right from its inception”.

“The only Qatari on its 12-member board is its chairman, Shaikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani, who also heads the board of Al Jazeera Channel. The board has all sorts of people, including novelists, writers and politicians as members, some of them are controversial,” the daily said.

It also complained that the Advisory Council of the centre had only one Qatari, Nasser Al Othman, among its ten members.

“Shockingly, a man who holds an Israeli passport is on the Council and he is a musician, not a journalist. Daniel Barenboim, 69, is basically a pianist and a conductor.”

The paper said the centre’s website was still in a beta version and that Keulen welcomed visitors as its director-general.

“Defunct for nearly two years, the centre occasionally shot off press statements on media issues in other parts of the world, conveniently ignoring Qatar and the rest of the GCC, and, strangely, the releases were usually signed by its financial controller in the absence of a director-general. A news item posted on the website says the site is being launched today and Keulen is to be introduced to the local media but, surprisingly, no invites have been sent out to the media, at least not to this newspaper,” the daily said.

According to The Peninsula, the “re-incarnated” centre has a different mission now that does not include providing shelter to journalists facing threats in their countries.

“The centre, during Ménard’s stint, had villas that provided shelter to such scribes. One of the centre’s objectives is to make the people in Qatar and the rest of the Middle Eastern region aware of the importance of media freedom.

“Critics say the centre would do better to focus on the governments rather than people to impart the lessons of press freedom since it is they, not the people, who are to blame for stifling the media,” the daily said.



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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