There were a number of reasons that inspired Qatar to establish the Media City, one of them being the country's long media history which started with the launch of radio and TV broadcasts in the '60s, a senior official has said.
In an interview with TRT World's Strait Talk, Director of the Government Communications Office (GCO) HE Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed bin Saif al-Thani said the second phase in the '80s and '90s saw a number of intellectuals and academics write columns in daily newspapers on government laws. The state realised that media was a platform for citizens to voice their opinion, he said.
HE Sheikh Saif noted that phase three stretched from the mid-'90s to 2004. It saw the establishment of Al Jazeera, as well as sports and cultural TV channels Al Kaas and Al Rayyan TV, respectively. He highlighted the high level of viewership for both channels, noting that Al Kass sports channel has more viewers outside Qatar than inside the country. Al Jazeera also expanded during that time beyond being an Arabic channel and became an international network broadcast in many languages.
Replying to a question on whether the Media City was established in response to the diplomatic crisis, HE Sheikh Saif said that the project was researched in 2005, with a team established in 2008 to implement it. The implementation was delayed as Qatar was still establishing Al Jazeera and the other channels. "Now Al Jazeera has become an international network that built its name thanks to the efforts of the independent journalists who were given all the space and creativity to do their own shows. Al Jazeera's motto "The Opinion and The Other Opinion" is a reflection of that."
HE the GCO director said the project was inspired by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who issued directives in 2017 to initiate the project. He stressed that the move was not a reaction to the diplomatic crisis, but rather an indication that the country is moving forward. "The last two years saw the state establish also the Free Zone Authority, continued developing the labour laws, and announced elections for the Shura Council."
HE Sheikh Saif said the crisis was behind the state and now they are moving forward by enhancing bilateral ties with countries all over the world, noting that Qatar is an esteemed investor that is highly appreciated all over the world.
On whether the blockade would end soon, HE Sheikh Saif said that the blockading countries started it and they can end it. He also noted that this was not the first crisis of its kind, as there were similar ones since the eighties. "Qatar was not an easy target as it is an independent country that has a leader that is followed in His Highness the Amir."
He said the country builds bilateral relations based on mutual respect, and believes in the importance of dialogue, noting that Qatar played the role of mediator in different matters throughout the region and beyond.
On how Qatar could attract different media outlets and how the country would benefit from these partnerships, the GCO director said they already have 33 agreements with media technology-based companies. He noted that the Media City can be thought of as three different categories: TV channels, publications, and social media.
"Social media is the upcoming new media, and that is why Media City will focus on it. One of the initiatives will be to build small studios where any blogger or social media influencer will have everything they need to create their videos and edit them for free." He said in exchange for providing them with the latest technologies, they could give lectures in one of the universities in Qatar such as Qatar University, which has a big media department, or the Northwestern University (Qatar campus), which is an American university.
HE Sheikh Saif said the attraction of the Media City will be that it will have no editorial limits. "There will be a code of ethics, which would make media outlets that come to Qatar to be responsible for what they say and for their actions. There will be no limitations on any outlets, and that the code of ethics is basically built on responsible media."
He said foreign countries will not be able to take any legal action against the editorial content of a Media City-based outlet in Qatar. They could do that where the media outlet's headquarters is based, he said. "However commercial disputes and similar matters can of course be resolved in Qatari courts," he said, expressing hope that there won't be many such cases.
Asked what has changed in the country over the past two years and its impact on Qatar's foreign policy, he said the last two years acted as a catalyst for different fields. Giving an example, he mentioned the higher levels of self-sufficiency in different industries such as food products and others, especially that the majority of food and medicines used to come through borders that are now closed.
"As a result people are living their lives normally with nothing really changing and price levels remaining stable. The overall effect of the crisis has been more positive for Qatar than negative."
The GCO director noted that Qatar and Turkey enjoyed strong ties before the blockade, which has only strengthened ever since. Turkish exports to Qatar have tripled in the last three years, while Qatar invested $15bn in Turkey, with more investments to come in the future.
He said the Turkish economy was strong beyond any doubt, reaffirming that Qatar invested in the Turkish economy due to that reason.