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The ongoing Gulf dispute has spurred a propaganda war among the region’s newspapers.

In this opinion piece, Doha News Editor-at-Large Victoria Scott discusses how several misleading reports in Qatari media have caused some residents to dismiss other, less glowing stories as “fake” – and why this is bad news for the country’s future.

It is a truly disheartening experience to spend days researching and writing a news story that you know will be branded “fake,” simply because some people don’t like what it says.

Thanks to US President Donald Trump, however, that’s now a depressing reality for many journalists around the world, and particularly so for the Doha News team at the moment.

Doha News

DN

Doha News is Qatar’s only independent source of national journalism, and as such has always stuck out amid a crowd of sycophantic newspapers and online outlets.

Even before the Gulf dispute began, reading a Qatari newspaper was like taking a dose of happy pills.

Effusive press releases printed verbatim and an endless parade of photos of high-ranking officials signing deals and staring meaningfully at plans, new buildings and roads reassured you that everything was running smoothly in Qatar.

Oh, and by the way – McDonald’s has a new menu and a revolutionary new model of vacuum cleaner is out in all department stores for a very reasonable price – so that’s nice.

Propaganda war

But the current Gulf crisis has taken glowing media coverage of Qatar to a whole other level.

To be fair, daily newspapers in boycotting countries are currently full of extraordinary stories. Many of these are either tenuously extrapolated half-truths or utter, baldfaced lies.

Khalid Albaih

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It is not surprising then that Qatar’s media is doing its part to push the balance in the other direction.

Every day since the crisis began, they have all carried stories that I believe fall into the propaganda category.

The majority lack statistics or facts, and simply seek to paint a reassuring picture.

For example, newspapers recently ran stories saying London is showing solidarity with Qatar because several taxi cabs bore supportive Qatar messages.

The Peninsula

A recent headline in The Peninsula

This reflected a complete misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of the way advertising works.

London is clearly not “showing solidarity” – an agency simply took a booking, and payment, for some ads.

Then there was this denial that the blockade had affected the airport in any way (Qatar Airways has still not responded to my request for comparable data for the Eid holiday period last year).

Hamad International Airport

Sanjiban Ghosh/Flickr

Hamad International Airport

And this story about how the construction industry in Qatar has apparently also been entirely unaffected by the blockade. It contains no facts, but is not presented as opinion.

While some would argue that the newspapers’ motives are benign and simply a way of reassuring the public and maintaining public morale, I respectfully disagree.

‘Fake news’

I have noticed that many Doha News readers are starting to dismiss factual stories as fiction, simply because they don’t fit the rosy picture painted by other outlets.

This is dangerous.

A major new study published by the Columbia Journalism Review recently analyzed a worrying trend in the US.

There, right-wing Americans abandoned traditional news sources during the recent presidential election in favor of right-wing publications that only reinforced their own viewpoint.

Donald J. Trump/Facebook

US President Donald Trump

The researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concluded that this ended up skewing coverage of the election in all US media. This is because some issues – such as immigration and Hillary Clinton’s emails – got more play than others.

Essentially, fake news stories produced by the right-wing press seeped into the public consciousness and potentially affected the result of the election.

It also meant that well-researched, factual stories that could have changed minds were often dismissed as fake.

I suggest that the proliferation of propaganda in Qatar’s newspapers, and the papers’ enduring reluctance to cover any news that could be vaguely regarded as “negative,” is causing a similar shift away from reality in Qatar.

Exchange issues story

Here’s an example.

Late last month, I wrote a story for Doha News about the fact that a number of foreign exchange firms were refusing to exchange Qatari riyals outside of Qatar.

Doha News had been contacted by several readers who’d experienced trouble changing their riyals on their travels in places where it had previously been a straightforward thing to do.

Tweets from the @dohanews Twitter account asking if this was a widespread issue prompted confirmation of similar problems from many more readers in several different countries.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The team then called a number of banks and exchange firms in both the UK and the US, who confirmed that they had indeed temporarily ceased to buy riyals because of the GCC Crisis.

Finally, I spoke to a currency expert who gave us his analysis of the situation.

The resulting story, which took a week to write and research, laid out the facts Doha News had gathered, and prompted Reuters to make their own enquiries.

And yet, here are just some of the comments underneath the story on the Doha News Facebook page:

“Don’t believe Doha News, they are paid puppets of the UAE.”
“No wonder that Doha News got a ban in Qatar…..You are increasing panic in people.”
“This is not unusual. And does not indicate something is wrong.”

I found myself answering a string of accusatory comments on all our platforms from people who were absolutely determined that our story was incorrect.

That meant asserting that Doha News was not paid by any government; that it had no interest in generating panic; and was simply interested in publishing the truth.

The currency situation was incredibly unusual, and did indicate something was awry.

QNA denial

However, it may not surprise you to read that Qatar’s local papers were not reporting the same story.

Many were initially silent on the subject.

Neha Rashid / Doha News

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Then, two days later, the Qatar state news agency (QNA) released a statement, shared in all local papers, stating that “reports circulating across different media about the trading and exchange rate of the Qatari riyal were baseless.”

Given all the research I had recently conducted, I knew this to be untrue. But readers of Qatar’s dailies did not.

It’s no surprise then that many readers are struggling to see the wood for the trees.

A dangerous precedent

I lived in Qatar for six years and I still find it fascinating to write about. I have always said that that’s because it has so many untold stories; and sadly, that remains true.

No other national news outlets in Qatar will investigate stories about suffering or injustice, and until Doha News is unblocked in Qatar, it’s tricky for us to do so, too.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

What worries me now is that Qatar’s residents will eventually become so desensitized to propaganda that they will accept it without question.

That means that policy changes that affect the lives of many residents may go unquestioned, and injustices may be able to continue without ever being noticed.

I think back to the many important stories Doha News has covered over the past eight years, such as:

Today, many readers would probably dismiss these stories as fake. And that worries me tremendously.

I believe strongly in the importance of a free media in the development of a nation. The ability to question our leaders and query policies makes, in my opinion, for a stronger community and state.

Realizing that not everything in your country is perfect is the first step to fixing the things that aren’t.

And I, for one, don’t think that’s fake news.

You can follow Victoria Scott on Twitter.

Chantelle D'mello

Al Wakrah Yard

Food security is one of the key challenges Qatar has faced since the Gulf crisis erupted last month.

In this opinion piece, Prof. Zahir Irani, who is part of the team running the Qatar National Research Fund project Safeguarding Food and Environment in Qatar (SAFE-Q), explains why Qatar and its residents should use the crisis as a wakeup call to change wasteful practices and boost their future food supply.

The GCC crisis has demonstrated the power of food supplies as a political tool in the region. Even more than that, it has exposed the indulgences at the heart of Qatar life.

In recent decades, developed nations have come to see food as being plentiful and cheap.

Qatar & Yonder

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This has always been an illusion, however, and nowhere more so than in an arid region like Qatar. There, 90 percent (or more) of the food supply is dependent on imports.

While individual products may look low-cost on the shelves, the bigger picture is very different. All foods involve high costs in terms of the resources involved in growing, rearing, transporting and processing raw materials.

International supply chains are increasingly complex, fragile and stretched by the demands of a burgeoning global population of middle-class consumers.

Shabina S. Khatri / Doha News

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In this context, no nation, no matter what their wealth might be, is safe, and needs to plan for their own sustainability.

A wake-up call

The blockade and questions over food shortages should be a wake-up call for Qatar.

In many ways, it will do the country good in terms of informing national priorities for the future.

Ray Toh

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This is as long as Qatar faces up to a lack of domestic capability and what can be done about that.

The country faces several challenges, including:

  • A legacy of local food industries not being able to compete with cheaper, sometimes loss-leader ranges of imports;
  • High production costs associated with the local climate and ecology; and
  • Immature supply chains due to a lack of knowledge and expertise.

Help for start-ups

To boost its local capabilities, Qatar needs to continue promoting new generations of “agro-preneurs.”

That means backing them with appropriate “kick-start” subsidies, a framework of business-friendly processes for start-ups and the necessary capital for facilities.

Reem Saad/Doha News

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The fledgling enterprises will also need an ecosystem of knowledge and expertise in agriculture to show them how they can become established in local markets and be more attractive than imported goods – a reference of best-practice.

This new generation of committed agro-preneurs, sometimes working collaboratively, is crucial when it comes to dealing with challenges like natural resources and making more areas workable for agriculture.

Water supply issues

Qatar also faces challenges when it comes to water, much of which comes from desalination plants.

Due to financial and environmental costs, this approach is unsustainable.

It has been estimated that the 30 desalination plants in Saudi Arabia rely on around 300,000 barrels of crude oil each day.

Qatar Foundation

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Solar-powered desalination plants appear to be the future. They are capable of producing a liter of water for around 2 cents (compared with $1 for a liter by conventional desalination plants) and are a high-potential investment opportunity.

There is now an urgent need to obtain hard evidence of the viability of these new plants, in terms of costs and scale.

These kinds of innovations, which can provide a foundation for longer-term and sustainable agriculture (as opposed to solutions like the current use of artificially-cooled greenhouses) need the backing of business and government.

Behavior changes needed

There’s also a lot that residents can do to help Qatar’s food security, which needs to be based around sensible, informed choices by consumers.

Everyday decisions matter.

This has been the focus of work by our Safeguarding Food and Environment in Qatar (SAFE-Q) project, supported by Qatar Foundation through its generous Qatar National Research Fund.

US Department of Agriculture/Flickr

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SAFE-Q is capturing evidence of food behaviors in Qatar and making recommendations to the government on new regulations, new technologies for transportation and storage and what’s needed in terms of transforming the food culture.

In a status-conscious market, there is a mass preference for what is perceived to be higher quality imports, the global brands.

Thus, smart marketing and widespread education is needed to change normal behaviors among consumers.

Qataris and expats will need to become accepting of the potential (initially at least) of lower standards of locally-produced foods and an immature agriculture industry, but one with much potential.

‘Wonky fruit’

Reducing expectations of the aesthetic appearance of fruit and vegetables, and the purchase of what have become known in the UK as “wonky” food products, would be a useful step forward.

There also needs to be a greater understanding of the whole life-cycle costs of a single item of fresh produce, in terms of soil, nutrients, water, energy.

Al Mazrouah Yard/Facebook

Locally grown strawberries

All of this could be provided via more detailed labeling and visible marketing around what “low-cost” foods really mean.

A culture of good hospitality and buffets for every social occasion and event isn’t helping the food waste problem, either.

At a simple level, greater levels of self-restraint when it comes to food, more of an ideal of “just enough,” would also make a real difference to levels of food demand.

Expiration date changes

There is also a need for action in terms of legislation around expiry dates. The current provision is geared toward ensuring every item displays a production date and an expiry date.

A “hard” expiration date prompts any imported food products that are past date to immediately be rejected by authorities and retailers.

MMUP official website

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It can be cheaper to send any discarded foods into landfill than return them to manufacturers – but each year that means a mountain of wasted food.

A more flexible “best before” system of labelling would allow for common sense, individual discretion and flexibility.

It would also give businesses the chance to utilize perfectly usable foodstuffs that would otherwise have been treated as rubbish.

There are enterprise opportunities here for hi-tech solutions to problems of unnecessary waste.

This includes ideas like smart labels on products that work with sensors in kitchens to alert consumers about which foods need using soon or immediately.

This technology could also provide timely suggestions on what to do with food past its “best before” date.

Ultimately, consumers need more help to make better choices.

Professor Zahir Irani is Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law at the University of Bradford School of Management. More details about the SAFE-Q initiative can be found here

Alex Caezar Sano / Flickr

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The recent decision made by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE to sever all ties with Qatar has had far-reaching consequences. The countries have expelled Qatari nationals, blocked Qatari websites and refused to allow Qatari aircraft to fly over their territories.

In this opinion piece, Mohammed Al-Jufairi explains the purpose of the blockade, and why he believes it will ultimately fail.

This past Ramadan will always be remembered as the month we were betrayed by our neighbors.

It will also be remembered as the month in which Qatar’s leadership was tested, and won.

QNA

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On June 5, 2017, an illegal siege of Qatar took place.

As a result, thousands of families were torn apart. Most GCC nationals have relatives in at least one other GCC country, so mothers were separated from their children, and husbands separated from their wives.

This siege was so dramatic and sudden, that people questioned the motives behind it.

Particularly at a time of relative peace, a time where the news of US President Donald Trump’s “successful” Saudi visit still made headlines, and at a time when the GCC seemed to be closer than ever.

Let’s be honest – the siege of Qatar was imposed for no justifiable reason.

No demands or grievances by the three countries were ever discussed openly before that fateful day.

In fact, I believe that the common denominator between all accusations made of Qatar is that they are baseless.

Money is the motivator

So then, why did the siege of Qatar take place, and what do they want from Qatar?

The answer: Liquefied Natural Gas. We have lots it.

RasGas

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Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is bleeding money over its failed war in Yemen, is suffering from falling oil prices and has a growing budget deficit.

Not to the mention the terrible living conditions of a large portion of the population living on state welfare.

So, Saudi must find a quick and easy way to make money – and the answer is to annex Qatar.

No retaliation

As a result of this month’s blockade, Qataris were forcibly expelled from the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi.

Saudi Arabia also expelled thousands of camels across the Qatari border. Hundreds of them were crushed to death trying to cross the narrow pathway allocated for these desert beasts.

But Qatar has not retaliated. Because, to quote Michelle Obama, when they go low, we go high.

arwcheek / Flickr

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Qatar’s borders remain open to the citizens of these countries, and its human rights group rushed to protect the men, women and children who were stranded and separated from one another.

Qatar’s government also urged residents to show respect to the Gulf Cooperation Council and refrain from insulting or attacking in kind.

Finally, its airspace has remained open for all planes to fly through, and the gas pipeline between Qatar and Abu Dhabi remains flowing, lighting up homes and businesses in the UAE.

Decreasing dependence

One benefit of the siege is that it has given Qatar an opportunity to test its preparedness for such a crisis.

It had a taste of what was to come in 2014, when Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain temporarily severed diplomatic ties.

That crisis was resolved thanks to Kuwaiti mediation. But Qatar also responded afterwards by investing in new livestock and agricultural facilities, and decreasing its dependence on the Saudi Arabian border, in case anything happened again.

Damon McDonald/Flickr

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Investments in the state-owned carrier Qatar Airways, the massive Hamad International Airport and the new Hamad Port have also helped, as has the opening of the Ruwais Port to the north.

Within hours of the siege beginning, food products from Qatar’s GCC neighbors were replaced by tastier dairy products from Turkey and London, fruit and vegetables from Iran and Lebanon and livestock from Australia.

Cows got first class tickets to Qatar, and business is booming more than ever. World Cup stadiums are moving forward using a year’s worth of reserve construction equipment. Business-wise, the siege is a failure.

Media war

Clearly the actions taken by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt to isolate Qatar are not meant to be temporary. They are there to cause permanent damage.

After all, if you want to invade a country, you must first create a “legitimate” reason for it and sell it to your population. Otherwise, your own population will question their leadership.

Alain Bachellie/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

You do not resort to such unprecedented extreme measures simply to send a warning to your neighbor. You would however resort to these draconian measures as a prelude to invading them.

But what made this conflict escalate exponentially was the UAE and Saudi’s dramatic shift of the cultural norm.

They launched an all-out media war on Qatar on all fronts.

Instead of showing respect for each other’s heads of state, they used nasty rhetoric and insulting cartoons, and ran Hollywood-style horror documentaries on all state television channels.

It became easier for citizens of the three blockade countries to believe the fake news, as they had no way of seeing the other side, because all Qatari channels were blocked.

Renewed unity

Meanwhile, however, Qatar’s native and expat populations have grown closer than ever.

Jidhu Jose/Flickr

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Qatari citizens have started removing their tribal names on social media, and replacing them with “Al-Qatari” – meaning the Qatari. All citizens became one tribe, that of Qatar.

Expats have also joined Qataris in proudly flying Qatari flags, promoting national food and dairy products and defending Qatar against false and ridiculous accusations.

After all, people in Qatar are free to make their own decisions and express their own feelings. And they all choose Qatar.

Qatar is not up for grabs. We will not allow anyone to colonize us, and dictate how we do our business.

Bosco Menezes (Big B Photography)

Ramadan Car Parade 2017

This crisis has taught us an important lesson – how to carefully carve our future paths by exposing our threats and finding our friends.

Who better to explain Qatar’s future than the Emir, who previously said:

“We don’t live on the sidelines of life, we don’t take direction (from anyone), and this independent behavior is one of our established facts.”

Qatar has won this battle already.

Thoughts?


The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.