Freedom of speech and press in Qatar is ensured by the Constitution, but it can be stifled by the political climate and social norms. The Constitution of Qatar ensures that citizens have the right to free speech and the right to free press. However, the government imposes upon the practice of these rights.
Qatar is an Islamic state, which means that the government abides by Sharia law, or Islamic law, for most social and legal guidelines. Reporters in Qatar are self-censored due to pressure from the ruling family, government policies, and foreign relations with other Gulf countries. Journalists also use caution when reporting on sensitive political and social issues in the region. Additionally, the seven newspapers published in Qatar are not owned by the state. The private owners are high-ranking government officials or have close ties with the Qatari government.
The Qatari government imposes restrictions on materials brought in from other countries. Specifically, customs officials will screen movies, newspapers, videotapes, and other forms of media for pornography or other material that goes against the nature of Islam. The Censorship Office of the Qatar Radio and Television Corporation has censored television programs and print publications for nudity. Recently, reports by local vendors were made when the Qatari government censored Egyptian newspapers that criticized Qatar.
Due to the customary use of Sharia law in government and law, Qatar has placed restrictions on certain media content. Pornography is offensive and is not allowed in the country. Furthermore, all pornography and material on the Internet that is perceived as offensive is blocked by the government. The Qatari government previously placed a ban on importing non-Islamic religious material, but that ban has since been lifted. The current restriction says that all religious items imported into the country must be for personal use only.
The largest and, perhaps, most well-known media outlet in the Gulf region is Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel, which is headquartered in Doha. Al-Jazeera is broadcast across the world and provides an international perspective of the news. Al-Jazeera maintains its claim that it operates free from government influence, but the Qatari government has previously paid some of Al-Jazeera’s operating costs. The support of the Qatari government may be influenced because Al-Jazeera does not report on local news.
According to the United States Department of State, a local state-owned radio show has frequent callers who discuss “government inefficiency and the lack of responsiveness by various ministries to citizens’ needs, such as poor schools, failure to deliver adequate water and sewage services, and problems with the health care system.” The Qatar Foundation even funded a series titled the “Doha Debates,” which was a series on the BBC about residents of Qatar debating “whether democracy is more important than wealth and whether France is right to ban the face veil.” Citizens and noncitizens have all participated in these publicly broadcast debates. The Qatari government has not prosecuted anyone directly for the expression of their views, but journalists have been prosecuted for what the Qatari government interprets as defamation or espionage.
There are clear impositions by the Qatari government on journalism and media. In 2010, Freedom House classified the press in Qatar as “not free.” While the government claims to allow press freedom, the practice of journalism without government oversight has yet to be demonstrated completely in Qatar.