By Satish Kanady
DOHA: The international media has been relentlessly after Qatar since it won the right, in 2010, to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It made troubling allegations against Qatar before and after its successful bid for the event. The country deftly handled it with dignity and poise.
After a brief interval, the media seems to be attacking Qatar with renewed vigour. Recent reports in a section of the Western media raise serious questions about responsible journalism. Last week, Western dailies published two reports questioning Qatar’s right to host the 2022 event in the light of allegedly high rates of death among Nepalese and Indian migrant labourers in the country. The embassies and labour welfare bodies of the two countries dismissed the reports, published by highly respected British dailies, as “baseless and concocted”.
“The Western media has a perception problem. Right from Qatar winning the bid, you can see a pattern in the consistent attacks on Qatar. They still cannot accept the fact that a country in the GCC region is capable of hosting the World Cup”, said Ahmad Jassim Al Jolo, chairman of Qatar Society of Engineers.
The construction sector is risky. Work-related accidents happen all over the world. The media is just doing a ‘shoot and scoot’ job. Instead of playing with statistics, they must specify exact reasons for deaths rather than shooting over the shoulders of human rights bodies, Jolo said.
There are a large number of European companies operating in the construction sector. They must come out with the facts and counter the allegations of the Western media, he said.
“We all know many European countries are going through serious economic crises. Some of the major companies in this region may be looking for a lion’s share of the World Cup-related project contracts. One cannot be blamed if he/she suspects the hand of the contracting lobby behind the sustained campaign against Qatar,” Jolo added.
Nepal-based Pravasi Nepal Coordinating Committee (PNCC) was the first to challenge the Western media’s “revelation” about the growing number of migrant workers from their country dying at worksites in Qatar. Interestingly, a British daily had claimed that the same NGO would come out with a detailed report on migrant labourer deaths in Qatar. The Kathmandu-based non-profit organisation dismissed the daily’s claims as baseless and fabricated.
Reacting to the reports, PNCC vice chairperson Kul Prasad Karki questioned the motives of the Western media. “As a migrant welfare body, we have been working across the Middle East for long. An equal number of fatalities are reported from across this region, including in other GCC countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE”.
He asked why the international media was focusing on Qatar and turning a blind eye to more fatalities happening in other parts of the region.
The Indian embassy claimed that the international media had fudged statistics related to mortality rates of Indian expatriates in Qatar. “Most of the deaths are by natural causes. It is, therefore, inappropriate to use these figures in a distorted manner,” said the mission.
Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF) is a welfare body of Indian expatriates in Qatar. It has been involved in day-to-day issues faced by migrant Indian workers in Qatar fore more than 30 years. Its’ president Kareem Abdullah said ICBF was shocked to see the international media suggesting that all the Indian expatriates who had died in Qatar were construction workers.
Work-related fatalities do occur in Qatar. In 2013, there were 14 worksite deaths. The previous year, there were 13. “We do not know why the international media is going crazy about Qatar,” Abdullah told The Peninsula.
“The ICBF is closely linked to Indian expatriate labourers, especially those involved in the construction sector. We have local units all across the country. The numbers quoted by the international media are highly alarming. We would have definitely taken notice if these numbers were real. But, fortunately, that is not the case”, he said.
Qatar is not claiming that things are perfect in its construction sector. The construction industry is a high-risk one across the globe. The construction industry in the Middle East is not as mature as in developed nations like Britain.
Mohammed Elgenaid, a construction industry expert, said he was aghast at statistics reported by the international media. “You take any country; there are problems in the construction sector. But how can it be linked to the World Cup?”, he asked.
It was common practice among international agencies to use human rights data to put pressure on countries, he said. They link human rights matters with other issues to protect their interests. This must be stopped, he added.
Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is a national independent watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness issues. HSE’s statistics for 2012/13 support Elgenaid’s argument that workplace injuries take place across the world. According to the figures, around 13,000 deaths due to work-related diseases occur each year in Britain. In 2011/12, an estimated 1.8 million people were suffering from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work.
“Health and safety in construction in Great Britain, 2013”, a report released by the HSE, says this about Britain’s work-related injuries and ill health: “There have been significant reductions in the number and rate of injury over the last 20 years or more. Nevertheless, construction remains a high-risk industry. Although it accounts for only about five percent of the employees in Britain, it accounts for 27 percent of fatal injuries to employees and 10 percent of reported major injuries”.
The HSE also found recently that one in four London construction sites fails safety inspections.
Considering that construction workers make up a sizeable chunk of Qatar’s labour force, the number of work-related deaths in Qatar cannot be described as “alarming”.
London’s construction sector trade union, UCATT, recently alleged that construction-related deaths in London had doubled after the London mayor ignored safety concerns. There were 39 construction fatalities in Britain in 2012/13. The most common fatal construction accident was falling from heights, which led to 23 deaths — 60 percent of all deaths recorded during the period.
“The British media should focus on causalities in the UK’s construction sector rather than looking for issues in Qatar”, said a Qatari businessman.
George Macleod, a construction sector expert with more than 30 years of experience in the US and Australia, said: “Qatar has been following British standards since 2010. Compared to many other countries in the Middle East, fatalities are much lower in Qatar.”
“It seems the Western media is sensationalising the issue and often blows it out of proportion. In Qatar’s case, I would say that the interested parties are extrapolating data and exploding it to the media,” Macleod said.
As for Qatar, the country is facing a serious PR crisis. The onus is on it to convince a sceptical world. As cyberspace is bombarded with half-truths and lies about Qatar, there are questions about whether Qatar is countering them effectively.
It is more than three years since Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid, but the country doesn’t have a single-window facility to counter baseless charges made by the international media.
Following reports on Qatar by The Guardian and The Observer, there was a wave of rage on the Internet, with news portals carrying stories with headlines like “Death toll in Qatar brings international shame on Qatar”, “World Cup horror death toll: 400 workers die”, “Qatar World Cup builds staggering death toll”.
“The problem with Qatar is that until recently it didn’t have an effective Local Organising Committee (LOC). FIFA will only coordinate with a body that is football-centric. It will not directly communicate with government bodies. Qatar has just recently announced that it has launched the LOC. But it’s not yet clear who is heading the body”, said a Doha-based veteran sports editor.
The recently formed Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy is supposed to act as the LOC and will be working with FIFA to fulfil all obligations under the hosting agreement. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy is expected to focus on constructing the proposed tournament venues and coordinating with local stakeholders.
Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, said directives had been issued by the authorities to the construction sector to strictly adhere to the construction code of ethics. There will be a monitoring system to make sure that the construction firms are following the guidelines.
A section of football fans in Qatar is adopting a moderate posture on the so-called “anti-Qatar campaign” by the international media. It is wise that Qatar is not over-reacting to the international media pressure, some say. As a country, Qatar has always been receptive to criticism. It has a history of handling turbulent periods in international politics and sporting events in a dignified and well-calibrated manner. “Well, let’s face it”, said one of them.
Call for liaison offices at major embassies
DOHA: One way to counter allegations against Qatar is to equip its embassies in major countries to present Qatar’s side of the story to the international media.
Writing in his column in this newspaper, The Peninsula’s Editor-in-Chief, Khalid Al Sayed, recently noted that a concerted campaign against Qatar was tarnishing the country’s image. “One cannot completely stop this negative coverage, but can definitely try to minimise it by setting up media offices at our embassies in major countries. One of the main reasons for the negative coverage is our lack of communication with the media…”, he said.
The primary objective of these media offices should be to open a channel of communication with the foreign media to present to them the Qatari perspective. In almost all Western and Arab media reports, there is no Qatari point of view, he wrote.THE PENINSULA