Government Communications Office (GCO) director HE Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed al-Thani, in a public interview at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), has called for principled communications, greater government transparency and the willingness to cope with
Commenting on the blockade of Qatar in the context of the country’s longstanding commitment to international outreach, he argued that continued dialogue – at home, in the Middle East and globally – is a central pillar of Qatar’s communication strategy.
HE Sheikh Saif said the GCO’s focus has remained constant. “Sticking to our principles is most important to us,” he said. “Put simply, the GCO’s role is to co-ordinate communication strategies across each ministry and communicate the facts and engage externally, whether in Qatar or elsewhere.”
In his opening remarks, Everette E Dennis, NU-Q dean and CEO, who moderated the session commended the GCO director for developing an office that departs from more controlling ministries of communication, common in some states that “most often constrain, rather than enhance public understanding”.
He noted that several NU-Q graduates serve in positions with the GCO, and have been on the ground floor in helping develop “this new and imaginative agency”.
Since the blockade started, HE Sheikh Saif said, it has become clear that engagement and dialogue are the most constructive way forward.
He said the GCO and other ministries “continue to intensively engage with media”, adding, “We remain clear that we do not fear the boycott, and we are willing to sit at the table and build a dialogue.”
Speaking to an audience of students, faculty and staff, he was asked by the dean about Qatar’s attitudes towards freedom of speech, and said the media has been important to Qatar’s evolution. “Whether that’s regarding labour practices or foreign affairs, scrutiny has helped shape policy. If we disagree with a piece of coverage, we may not get a correction, but it’s important that we remain tenacious in speaking to the media and presenting the facts,” he said.
When asked to assess the quality of media reporting around the globe, HE Sheikh Saif pointed to coverage in the US and European media where he said journalists “report both sides”. International media coverage, he said, has been robust as it has followed the path of the blockade. Similarly, he said, local media in Qatar have been fulsome in their coverage, while media of the blockading countries has been more one-sided and sometimes a purveyor of fake news.
Dean Dennis observed a greater public commitment to freedom of expression since the blockade began and asked whether remarks by His Highness the Emir and HE the Foreign Minister respectively on CBS 60 Minutes and at London’s Chatham House would hold after the blockade. HE Sheikh Saif agreed that coverage of the blockade had highlighted trends that were already under way.
He said Qatar does not censor social media. “We are not very sensitive, regarding various issues, whether the World Cup or foreign policy,” he said.
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