Qatar issues new media restrictions ahead of World Cup

A soccer ball inside a stadium. (Stock image, Graphic by The Desk)

The government of Qatar has issued a new photography permit that dictates where international broadcast crews can — and, more importantly, cannot — film within the country while on assignment for the World Cup.

The new permit says foreign broadcasters are not allowed to video or photograph houses, apartment complexes or other accommodation sites, nor are they allowed to film inside private businesses, places of worship, government buildings, schools or industrial zones.

Officials in Qatar say the limitation is not intended to be a restriction on freedom of the press or free speech, but was instead a safeguard to ensure film crews do not capture images that violate the privacy of individual citizens. Under the rules, journalists are allowed to continue working in these areas and may take notes for their reports, as long as they do not photograph or video those sites.

FIFA, the governing body that operates the World Cup, said it was continuously “working with the supreme committee and relevant organizations in Qatar to ensure the best-possible working conditions for media attending the tournament.” The World Cup is scheduled to begin next month; it is typically held during the summer, but was delayed to the winter due to Qatar’s climate.

The new rules are likely to hamper efforts by some journalists to cover numerous controversies involving Qatar, including the country’s use of migrant workers to build out stadiums and other venues connected to the World Cup tournament. Qatar has also been criticized for its laws that ban homosexuality throughout the country, with some gay and lesbian soccer players saying those laws would make it difficult for them to play in the tournament.

The media restrictions are already having an impact on the way at least one broadcaster intends to cover the tournament. This week, a producer with Fox said the network would not produce reports on the various controversies involving Qatar, and would instead focus its efforts on the tournament itself.

“Our stance is if it affects what happens on the field of play, we will cover it and cover it fully — but if it does not, if it is ancillary to the story of the tournament, there are plenty of other entities and outlets that are going to cover that,” David Neal, Fox’s executive producer for World Cup coverage, told employees and reporters on Thursday, adding that the network “firmly believe[s] the viewers come to us to see what happens on the field, on the pitch.”

Others are taking a different approach. This week, officials at Britain’s ITV said they intend to cover the tournament without shying away from the controversies involving Qatar, though the majority of its telecasts are expected to focus squarely on soccer. The BBC, which shares domestic telecast rights with ITV, echoed similar sentiments.

Some broadcasters have already found Qatar to be a different environment to work than they are used to. Last year, journalists working for a television station in Norway were arrested while attempting to cover conditions of migrant laborers in Qatar; they were held for 36 hours before being released.