H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made a historic announcement last year that Shura (Parliament) elections will be held in Qatar in October 2021. Our country is on the threshold of a major democratic experience. And, the preparations have begun.
But for democracy to succeed and produce the best results, we need to activate several tools, one of which is investigative journalism.
Democracy and a free press are inseparable. Journalism is ineffective and incomplete without investigative reporting. In Qatar and the Gulf countries, journalism itself faces many challenges, and investigative journalism, which is its most difficult part, carries several risks.
Practice of any form of journalism requires free flow of information. Unfortunately, in Gulf countries, information isn’t easy to come by and even routine information is protected from the public gaze. Everything is considered a secret. Even ordinary documents aren’t available to journalists.
Websites of public institutions, which are supposed to inform, aren’t updated regularly. Journalists struggle for ordinary information for ordinary stories. In such a scenario, getting into investigative reporting requires a quantum leap. A leap of courage and determination.
How will this be achieved? First of all, the authorities need to send the right message. Secondly, journalists must be protected from lawsuits and encroachments on their freedom. We need a media law that reflects the current realities of the world and our country, a law that takes into account the advancements in technology and proliferation of social media.
The new media law must also take into account the fact that we are going to get a parliament soon. The Qatar Media Law of 1979, which is still in effect, must be withdrawn.
In our society, many people don’t understand the difference between ordinary reporting and investigative journalism. Most journalists are unwilling to take risks and will distance themselves from anything that would bring trouble.
Media companies refuse to touch controversial stories, for fear of legal entanglements and impact on their commercial interests. There is also a lack of awareness among government institutions of the importance of this type of journalism and its role in the development process and monitoring of performance.
Democracy is associated with several values, like trust in public institutions, transparency, justice and freedom. Corruption is the enemy of every political system and advanced democracies are known for their fight against corruption. Gulf countries, too, have a zero tolerance of this malaise and they have signed international agreements and treaties to ensure transparency and justice. Allowing investigative reporting is the best way to guarantee a corruption-free society.
The world has given us enough proof of how corruption cannot be fought with laws alone and needs a free press. Elected governments have been brought down by exposes by journalists who have risked their lives to get to the truth. Corruption always remains hidden and its perpetrators would go to any extent to suppress the truth. It would require plenty of courage and determination to unearth the truth, and it’s almost always done by investigative scribes.
The Gulf political system is still in a state of formation and in many countries, governmental institutions and bodies have control over the press, and all issues and events are used to serve the government which has made the press deviate from its basic function of revealing the truth.
Like in many other things, Qatar needs to take the lead in supporting investigative reporting, too.