ILQ Breaking News: Doha Media Freedom Centre is no more
Robert Ménard and his team have left the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. "The Centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work", he explained.
"For several months we have made an independent voice heard, one that has exposed violence with concern for nothing but the truth. We have helped more than 250 endangered journalists and media all over the world, and I think we can be proud of that.
"But some Qatari officials never wanted an independent Centre, free to speak out without concern for politics or diplomacy, free to criticise even Qatar. How can we have any credibility if we keep quiet about problems in the country that is our host? Now the Centre has been suffocated. We no longer have either the freedom or the resources to do our work. This cannot go on. I was willing to make any necessary compromises as long as the foundations of our work – assistance grants, statements of opinion - were safeguarded. But that is no longer the case."Ménard went on: "This is a pity, especially as media freedom is particularly threatened in this part of the world. More than 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in the Middle East and North Africa. Since the start of the year, several journalists have been killed in the region: in Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Territories. The Centre was always there to give assistance to families, pay lawyers' fees and help those who wanted to travel to less dangerous areas.
"It was the first time that an international organisation for the defence of media freedom had been set up in a country outside the West. It was made possible by the Emir and his wife Sheikha Mozah. Thanks to them, we have completed projects such as starting an independent news agency for Somali journalists, providing bulletproof jackets in Somalia, Iraq and Pakistan, opening a press centre in Gaza, supplying newsprint to newspapers in Guinea-Bissau. Our work has not been in vain, and we can only hope it will be continued in some way."Ménard spoke about the obstacles encountered by the Centre and pointed to those responsible, particularly Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, who is also President of the Board of Al Jazeera: "Those who have caused us problems do not accept the idea of our independence and freedom of speech. They constantly put obstables in our way, thereby going against the commitments we have made.
"For example, Centre staff were prevented from leaving the country temporarily and had to apply for a permit whenever they needed to travel. Sheikh Hamad refused to sign administrative documents that would have enabled the Centre to take in journalists under threat in their own countries, as originally planned. His office told us recently that giving shelter to journalists from countries such as Iran might go against Qatar's diplomatic interests. This confirmed that the Centre's independence was, in his eyes, a myth.
"Sheikh Hamad also tried to enforce new internal regulations, in violation of the Centre's statutes and with a view to keeping tighter control over how the Centre was run. He would have had the power to censor the Centre's statements. Finally, payment of the Centre's budget, scheduled for 1 April, has been continually delayed and we are now unable to answer appeals from journalists in danger, in Pakistan, Somalia and elsewhere.
"Returning to more basic matters, Qatar has still not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, despite frequent promises. And the committee that was supposed to discuss a new law on the media - and on which we had been invited to sit - has still not held any meetings."
Ménard concluded: "I do not doubt the sincerity of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah and her determination to advance the cause of freedom, especially media freedom. But she is not alone. And those who prefer to retain the status quo are many, powerful and obstinate.
"No-one but her would have dared imagine a Centre like the one we have ohabuilt here. Maybe Sheikha Mozah is too far ahead of her fellow citizens, too 'modern' for political figures attached to the status quo, too aware of the challenges in this world for dignitaries concerned only with their own interests."
The heads of the assistance, research and communications departments have also left the Centre.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom was set up on the initiative of Sheikha Mozah and Reporters Without Borders in December 2007. Ménard, who became director-general on 1 April 2008, was the founder of Reporters Without Borders, which he headed for 23 years until 1 October 2008.
Note: the Doha Media Freedom Centre will continue to exist. However it'll just be a shell. A heart without a soul. A head without a mind.
What a pitty.