Interviewer: Welcome to Strait Talk and thank you very much for your time. Qatar is already a regional leader in news as well as sports coverage. This new mega project promises the best possible facilities and incentives for international media organisations, and we understand that it has already secured significant interest from media outlets. Tell us what inspired you to come up with such an ambitious plan, and why now?
Well thank you first of all for having me on your show. This is actually our first interview talking about Qatar Media City.
It is for many reasons. Qatar has a history in media. A history that started with radio and TV in the 60s, that was built and established for the government to reach the information to the people.
And in the 80s and the 90s, which I call Phase 2, a huge shift happened. Columnists that were thinkers, that were academics, started writing in our newspapers their opinion, on government laws, regulations, and so on. And we did not react. We then realised, and the people realised, that media is a platform for people and citizens to voice their opinion. That’s what I call Phase 2.
Interviewer: And now comes the Phase 3 I think?
No, Phase 3 was in the mid-90s to 2004, when channels like Al Jazeera were established. You had two other local channels established, one in sports – Al Kass TV, which has more viewers outside Qatar than inside Qatar. We have a cultural channel – Al Rayyan TV, which was also established. Al Jazeera moved from being just in Arabic into English, into a dozen of channels and languages.
Interviewer: But you say Qatar has a history in media, and you talked about the phases. But when we look at it, this decision has been taken and announced during this diplomatic crisis. Is this a reaction?
Media city, as a project, was researched in 2005. A team was established in 2008 to implement it. But we did not see then that it was the right team. We were still establishing ourselves, Al Jazeera and all of these were a sample. A sample that succeeded.
Al Jazeera now is an international network, and no one can doubt that. And this international network was established by the independent journalist that worked on it. They worked, they had the space and creativity to do their own shows and discussions, and as you know, the logo of Al Jazeera represents different opinions.
Interviewer: So when do you plan on opening Qatar Media City?
Just to go back – the ambition behind this project is an inspiration from an ambitious leader, and that is His Highness. He asked to initiate this project in 2017, and we did it because we thought it was the right time.
Now to answer your question: “Is this a reaction?” In the last two years, we have not just done this project. We have established the Free Zones authority which is in the works, and we have kept developing our labour laws. We have announced that our Advisory Council, we call it the Shura council, will be holding elections. So, in the last two years, this was not the only decision we made. Rather than seeing it as a reaction, see it as us moving forward, rather than just sitting, pausing and waiting until this crisis is over. The crisis is behind us, we are moving forward, our bilateral relations are strengthening. We are a respected economic investor worldwide whether you ask banks, businesses or countries.
Interviewer: So, do you think the blockade will end soon?
This is something they started, and this is something they can end. As I said before, and maybe I can clarify it more – this crisis is not the first. We’ve been through crises since the 80s. I will give you an answer on behalf of generations of Qatari officials that have dealt with different crises since the 80s until today: Qatar is not an easy target, we are an independent country, we are not a follower, we have our own leader that we follow, which is His Highness.
We are an independent country, and we build our bilateral relations on mutual respect. We do believe in dialogue as we ourselves have been mediators in different matters throughout the region and beyond.
Interviewer: If we get back to the blockading countries, how will you attract the media outlets currently there? And how will this benefit Qatar locally?
Well see, we already have almost 33, if I’m not mistaken, agreements between media technology-based outlets. Let me explain to you one thing. Think of Qatar Media City as three categories: TV channels, publications, and social media.
To me personally, social media is the upcoming new media that we will focus on. I will give you an example, exclusively. We will have, for example, small studios where any blogger or social media influencer will have everything he needs in front of him for free. He can film his YouTube videos, edit them, and that sort of thing.
Interviewer: So, you will provide them with more facilities and opportunities?
Yes, we will provide them with the latest technologies in media, in exchange for these influencers to come and give a lecture in one of our universities. Like Qatar University for example, which has a huge media department, or like Northwestern University campus, which is an American university.
Interviewer: So with this project, Qatar wants to become a hub of freedom of speech and freedom of expression?
Well see, our attraction point is that we will have no editorial limits. We will have a code of ethics. Now this code of ethics to simply explain it to you, is that we trust that those media outlets that come here, are responsible – responsible for what they say and their actions. We will not have any limitations on that sort. And the code of ethics is basically built on responsible media.
For example, let’s say a report comes out by a media outlet out of Doha. If this report upsets one of the countries, here in Qatar they cannot take them to court. They can go to the headquarters in their countries – but we will not have disputes on the editorial side. But disputes such as commercial and so on will of course be there – but we hope there will not be many.
Interviewer: Since the blockade, what has changed in the country in these two years and how does this impact Qatar’s foreign policy?
The last two years have definitely been a catalyst to speed up different fields. For example, we are now more self-sufficient in regard to different industries such as food and so on. And of course, cutting off the borders with those countries, most of our food and medicines used to come from them. We’ve dealt with it swiftly. And as you see today, people are living their lives normally. Nothing has really changed, there is no increase in prices.
I think the crisis has been more positive to us than it was negative.
Interviewer: Qatar and Turkey enjoy great relations and they have improved since this blockade. What do you say of the bilateral ties, and are we hoping to see more Qatari projects and investments in Turkey?
Well see, Qatar and Turkey’s relationship I would consider as a strategic relationship. It is based on friendship, brotherhood and mutual respect. It is a relationship that started with both our countries trying to peacefully resolve different issues in the region. And from then, it grew.
We held strong relations with Turkey way before the blockade. And that relationship only became stronger now, continuing to become stronger day by day. Now in regard to Turkish exports, if I’m not mistaken they tripled during the last three years. We have invested more recently, around USD 15 billion. There are future investments in Turkey.
Interviewer: So, investments will continue?
Turkey’s economy is without a doubt a strong economy. I think no one can doubt that here or around the world. So, we believe in Turkey’s economy, and that is our main purpose in investing in its economy.
Sir, thank you so much for your time.
HE Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al Thani:
Thank you very much for having me.