Posted on July 29, 2019

Director of the Government Communications Office H E Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed bin Saif Al Thani said that there were a number of reasons that inspired Qatar to establish Media City, one of them is Qatar's long history in media which started with radio and TV in the sixties with the goal of providing people with information.

In an interview with TRT World's Strait Talk, he said that following phase one in the sixties there was phase two in the eighties and nineties which saw a number of intellectuals and academics write columns in daily newspapers on government laws which did not see any pushback. Instead the state realized that media was a platform for citizens to voice their opinion. Phase three started in the mid-nineties to 2004. It saw the establishment of Al Jazeera, as well as a sports and cultural TV channels in Al Kaas and Al Rayyan TV respectively. He highlighted the high level of viewership for both channels, noting that Al Kass sports channel has more viewers outside Qatar than inside the country. Al Jazeera also expanded during that time beyond being an Arabic channel and became an international network broadcast in many languages.

Replying to a question on whether the Media City was established in response to the diplomatic crisis, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that the research for Media City project was done in 2005, with a team established in 2008 to implement it. The government back then did not see it as the right time to push through with those plans, as they were still establishing themselves in the space and because Al Jazeera and the other channels were just starting out. Now, he added, Al Jazeera has become an international network that built its name thanks to the efforts of the independent journalists who worked in it and were given all the space and creativity to do their own shows. Al Jazeera's motto "The Opinion and The Other Opinion" is a reflection of that.

Director of the Government Communications Office said that the project was inspired by HH the Amir, who issued directives in 2017 to initiate the project. The move was not a reaction to the diplomatic crisis, but rather an indication that the country is moving forward. The last two years saw the state establish also the Free Zone Authority, continued developing labour laws, and announced elections for the Shura Council. He stressed that the crisis was behind the state and now they are moving forward by enhancing bilateral ties with countries all over the world, noting that Qatar is an esteemed investor who is highly appreciated all over the world by banks, companies, and countries.

On whether the blockade would end soon, he said that the blockading countries started it and they can end it. This was not the first crisis of its kind, as there were similar ones since the eighties. To this day, the State of Qatar is not an easy target. We are an independent sovereign state. We do not follow anyone. We have our leader and our Amir, HH the Amir. Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that the country builds bilateral relations based on mutual respect, and believes in the importance of dialogue, noting that Qatar played the role of mediators in different matters throughout the region and beyond.

On how Qatar could attract different media outlets and how the country would benefit from these partnerships, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that they already have 33 agreements with media technology-based outlets. Media City can be thought of as three different categories: TV channels, publications, and social media.

He said that social media is the upcoming new media, and that is why Media City will focus on it. One of the initiatives inside the city will be to build small studios where any blogger or social media influencer will have everything they need to create their videos and edit them for free. In exchange for providing them with the latest technologies in media, they could give lectures in one of the universities in Qatar such as Qatar University, which has a big media department, or the Northwestern University campus, which is an American university.

Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that the main attraction of Media City will be that it will have no editorial restrictions. There will be a code of ethics, which would trust media outlets that come to Qatar to be responsible for what they say and for their actions. He stressed that there will be no restrictions on any outlets, and that the Code of Ethics will be based primarily on responsible media. He  gave an example, if a report by a media outlet upsets one of the countries, the State would not be able to take any legal action against the author of the report here in Qatar. They could do that in the location of the media outlet's headquarters. However commercial disputes and similar matters can be resolved in Qatari courts, but expressed hope that there won't be many.

On what has changed in the country over the past two years and its impact on Qatar’s foreign policy, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that the last two years acted as a catalyst for different fields. The country has reached higher level of self-sufficiency in various sectors like food and others. The closure of the border with those countries, since most of our imports of food and medicines were passing through, prompted us to deal with this closure and contain it as quickly as required. State dealt with that development swiftly and as a result people are living their lives normally with nothing really changing and price levels remaining stable. He added that overall the crisis has been more positive for Qatar than negative.

Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed said that Qatar and Turkey enjoyed strong ties before the blockade, which has only strengthened ever since. He noted that Turkish exports to Qatar for example have tripled in the last three years, while Qatar invested $15 billion in Turkey, with more investments to come in the future. Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed stressed that the Turkish economy was strong beyond any doubt, reaffirming that Qatar invests in the Turkish economy due to that reason.