Norway’s national editors’ and press association has accused authoritarian officials in Qatar of sabotaging the work carried out by a TV crew from state broadcaster NRK. When the memory card taken out of the crew’s equipment was finally returned after being seized, all interviews and photos on it had been deleted.
“That’s pure sabotage of journalism and of those who were on assignment,” Arne Jensen, secretary general of Norsk Redaktørforening, told NRK. “It means that journalists traveling to Qatar risk being arrested and having their material destroyed. It’s an attack on the free press and, with that, democratic institutions.”
Not only were NRK reporter Halvor Ekeland and photographer Lokman Ghorbani arrested and jailed while on the job in Qatar last month, their equipment was confiscated. When they finally got some of it back late last week after Norway’s embassy intervened, photos and interviews they’d done with the head of Qatar’s World Cup project and the International Labour Organization (ILO) had been deleted.
“It’s clear that things we have filmed are things they didn’t want us to show,” Ekeland said. That includes an “official” interview with the World Cup boss, “that we can’t air now.”
FIFA doesn’t seem to care
Officials in Qatar are still in possession of other equipment and personal belongings of the NRK team. They’ve come under heavy criticism in recent years over their use of migrant labourers to build World Cup facilities under harsh conditions. An estimated 15,000 labourers have died during the process and Qatar has been accused of serious human rights violations, along with using the World Cup for so-called “sportswashing” to improve its image.
Qatar’s officials have claimed the NRK ventured into “private” areas where they weren’t allowed. That doesn’t explain, however, why the interview with the World Cup boss was deleted. They’ve also claimed that no journalists who “respect Qatar’s laws” have been arrested.
NRK sought comment on the alleged sabotage from the international football federation FIFA, which controversially allowed Qatar to host next year’s World Cup, but there was no immediate response. FIFA officials earlier refused to express any concern for the Norwegian journalists’ treatment in Qatar, sparking even more criticism from Norway’s broadcasting chief and head of NRK, Thor Gjermund Eriksen.
‘Cowardly’ FIFA ‘doesn’t understand’
“It’s as if FIFA doesn’t understand what happened,” Eriksen said, or even care that journalists covering the World Cup preparations were arrested, jailed, robbed of their equipment and prevented from calling either their employer or their families. “That’s clearly out of proportion to the charge (which NRK has denied) that they allegedly filmed in the wrong place,” Eriksen said. Officials in Qatar thus appear desperate to try to control all information coming out about the World Cup.
The coach of Norway’s national men’s football team, Ståle Solbakken, was stunned by the journalists’ arrests and called FIFA’s response “cowardly.” Solbakken also said that it’s now “even more difficult for FIFA to have any credibility that they take freedom of the press seriously.”
Solbakken’s team regularly launched their own protests of Qatar’s treatment of its migrant workers and human rights abuses and football fans all over Norway urged a boycott of the World Cup. Norway’s team ended up not qualifying after finishing second in its group so won’t have to play in Qatar, but calls continue for Norwegian footballs officials and fans to stay home.