It seems like a complicated business. Qatar is one of the most difficult places to find willing interviewees or access public or private locations, government and businesses of any sorts. To be on the news, for reasons good or bad, is taboo for many in Qatar. The media is not trusted…yet.
But if you want to make a news story in Qatar it can be done, and it is a lot easier when you are working with an experienced local news production company (like ours, Mediadante).
Mediadante gets asked daily about how to do news in Qatar. So we thought we would share some wisdom.
N.B. The laws can shift with the winds here so bear with us as we try to keep this up to date. And if you think we have got something wrong please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
What you need:
- Patience. Your interviewee will not turn up, key shoots will be cancelled, security guards will turn you back for no reason… but we will get there in the end.
- A fixer or producer from a local production company with extensive news experience will maximise your access and efficiency, minimise your potential for arrest, and probably help bring down any equipment hire costs as part of the deal of working with them. Mediadante would be my recommendation, but there are others like Doha News who will be able to help you. They can organise your entry and set up your interviews through their trusted contacts and long-standing good reputation locally. And most importantly they can gain permission where needed for film or photography and tell you how to film in public areas without breaking any laws. You can and will get arrested for filming in the wrong places here…a simple change of angle on the camera and all that can be avoided. The “general permission” provided by QNA is very misleading. Asking for it will mean a long wait as they have to apply to the Ministry of Interior, and when gained, it will get you permission for very few areas; the Corniche and limited parts of West Bay and the desert.
- A few sheets of headed paper signed and stamped by someone important at your company upon which you can print requests for interviews or access.
- A readable stamp of entry in your passport (needed for access some parts of the political and gas/petrol infrastructure) take note of which page it is on and that the date can be read when you are at the gate. “Khetem Waadeh min fadlik” “Clear stamp please” will work every time.
- An up to date CV with links to recent work is useful and often asked for by people you want to interview.
- PDF and hard copies of your passport or GCC identity card to send to security gates (or get into hotel bars).
- If you want to attend an official press conference e.g anything with a newsworthy international political agenda, anything at the Diwan you will need to have a valid press card and/or, for safety, a letter (on headed paper, signed and stamped) from your company confirming you work for them and your attendance at the event or location for the purpose of working for them. Any fixer, translator or producer you work with locally who is also coming to the event or location will need a press card from the QNA (this can take three working days if you are pushy), a letter is not enough for locals these days. Sometime they will accept a local ID (called RP) card if the ID card says “journalist”, “cameraman” or “photographer” as the job title.
- A business or tourist visa if you are from a country that is not inside the GCC or on this list of 33 countries that get given a “tourist visa” on arrival. Your hotel or production company can help you organise this.
- Doing lives or live feeds in Qatar can generally be organised through Al Jazeera. Any big events there will also be an Al Jazeera truck and they will often give you a slot for free in return for a nice smile. Mediadante and other production houses in Qatar can help you organise this.
- If you want to bring in equipment (rather than hire locally) you will need a letter of permission to be sent to airport customs from the Qatar News Agency. This takes 21 days minimum, (though if you have an interview or shoot with someone or at an event of significance it can be hurried through). Mediadante knows how to process this request, with speed. The basics you will need for this are:
- A letter of invitation from an organisation or person of significance in Qatar (on signed and headed and stamped paper, ideally in arabic) addressed “Dear Head of the Qatar News Agency” (the correct name at time of writing can be supplied by Mediadante or another local production house) saying they will be meeting you for an interview, how excited they are by the opportunity to speak to you, the dates of your interview and how they would be grateful for the QNA’s help with your smooth arrival into the country with your filming equipment.
- A letter of support from a local production company (addressed to the head of the QNA), like Mediadante, confirming that they will be organising all public and private filming permissions and helping you keep within the Qatari laws.
- A letter on headed paper, signed and stamped from your company addressed to the head of the QNA explaining who you are, what you want to do in Qatar, who and where you are filming, who is helping you gain permissions, your flight numbers and arrival dates, that you want permission to bring your kit in for the purposes of this story and this story alone and it will be leaving on XX date on XX flight. The letter should include when your story is likely to air too and a clear deadline for QNA to understand and react to in terms of getting all the permissions in place.
- A list of your equipment including values and serial numbers ideally.
- The IDs of all travelling crew.
- Flight confirmation for all travelling crew if possible.
- And finally…a local fixer to chase this up when the QNA forgets to process it all and you are left wondering what to do with 24 hours to go before you arrive! Mediadante is good at this.
What you do not need:
You do not need a letter of “general permission” from the Qatar News Agency – it is not needed if you are just flying in to make news (as long as you are not bringing in equipment). General permission to shoot from the Qatar News Agency will only get you the corniche and limited areas of the West Bay and desert. Everywhere else e.g the souk, the museums, the Pearl are either off limits or needs private permission organised. A local production company, like Mediadante, can help you do this.
You do not need a special visa – if you are from one of 33 countries named on this list in the “tourist visa” section or from the GCC. You come in as a tourist.
If you are not bringing in professional camera equipment (particularly sound equipment which gets picked up every time) then you do not need to inform the government at all of your arrival. The law says you can come in as a tourist and then I would advise working with a local production company to hire equipment and local knowledge in order to work within the law and subtle mores of Qatar in order to make your story.
A bgan or any remote satellite system will be seized at the airport.
If your equipment does get seized do not panic…at worst you will receive a receipt and then pick it up on the way out of the country. But about half the time a good local production company with existing relations at the QNA and airport will be able to help you get it out within a day or two. Mediadante can help you with this.
Be smart and there is no reason for you to feel restricted by anything or anyone. You just need to put in a little bit of preparation time and work with experience on the ground.
This was written by Rosie Garthwaite, the executive producer of Mediadante, and award-winning author of How to Avoid Being Killed in A War Zone. Do get in touch with any questions on email@example.com and I will do what I can to help you out.
Last updated Feb 10th 2014.