Great interview with Jan Keulen, the director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, in which he talks extensively about the problem with Qatari journalism.

Below is good bit about the trial coverage of the tragic Villagio Mall fire, in which 13 children in a daycare lost their lives. The judge in the trial barred an online outlet, Doha News (the best online news outlet in the Gulf), from covering the trial. That leaves the trial coverage to the local newspapers, and their coverage has been less than exhaustive.

Kuelen notes:

Yes, I don’t think (the local media) did a very good job. Not only the coverage of the incident but also what happened afterwards has been fairly ambiguous. What happened to the relatives of the victims? What kinds of safety and security measures were really taken? Is it safer now? We haven’t really seen anything about that in the media.

… I would be very surprised if we do not hear anything about the final judgement but there have been more than 11 court hearings. As somebody who lives here, I would like to have a little bit more information about what happened during those court cases. And if there’s any reason not to publish them, it should be conveyed to the public.

But I haven’t read anything about that and so there’s an atmosphere that suggests lack of transparency surrounding that case which I find regrettable. Sometimes a judge might have to disallow media inside a court room for privacy or security reasons but then that should be said, so that the people are aware that media is not covering up, what is in principle, important news. It should be highlighted that the absence of details is because according to the court, for specific and stated reasons, it would be detrimental to the case proceedings.

I think sometimes there is a misunderstanding on how the role of media is perceived. While news and amusement are both expected of media, they also have another important role and that is to take care of the cohesion of the community.

There is a role played by media which is to console, I think, especially in cases of disasters or calamities and this was the aspect in which media was not able to stand up to the communities’ need and expectation in the case of Villaggio fire where 13 children died.

Good points. And kudos to the Doha Gulf Times for printing the interview.

The problem with the trial can be seen throughout the Gulf — a lack of transparency in the issues most important to the public. This approach is entrenched in the political and cultural DNA of the region. Only a new generation, raised in a different communication environment, will be able to change the status quo.