March 16, 2015 Stephen Russell

New PR strategy switched on as Qatar co-opts critics

Last year, Channel 4 ran an expose of a football blog called The Pressing Game. The blog, supposedly a grass-roots affair, had the odd celebrity contributor and a wide-ranging subject matter. C4 had noticed, however, that a recurring theme was cricism of anyone – from the FA to Gary Linekar – who had criticised Qatar’s custody of the 2022 World Cup tournament.

What they found was that The Pressing Game had been created by a communications company that had been retained by the Qatar government. Although one celebrity contributor, Alistair Campbell, defended the blog and accused Channel 4 of pursuing an “uber non-story”, just a few months later seems to have vanished off the face of the internet, which – it could be argued – is a teensy bit suspicious.

Perhaps Qatar’s PR targets have shifted from attacking their critics to co-opting them. We’ve noticed a Twitter rebuttal from Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant researcher Mustafa Qadri, recently returned from a research mission, against a couple of Qatar news outlets.  Starting with the “somewhat selective quoting” by MEED (formerly Middle East Economic Digest), Mr Qadri refuted the claim that he had suggested that “criticism of the treatment of workers in Qatar is unfair” but merely that some criticism of Qatar is “simplistic, stereotyped and unfair”, which may well be true. What he certainly didn’t say was that all  or even much criticism is unfair, and illustrated his point by setting the record straight via Doha News and unleashing a series of tweets blasting Qatar’s inaction…

…which sound a little bit like criticism to us.

So Mustafa’s 15k Twitter followers at least know the real situation; that didn’t then stop the Qatar Tribune from giving the strategy a second airing, their optimistically titled story “Amnesty hails Ministry of Interior’s human rights record” prompting further outrage from Amnesty’s man in the field.

Now, we have no indication that either of these acts of gross misrepresentation were part of an official strategy and they could just be editorial incompetence on the part of the particular publications, but Qatar’s PR operations don’t seem to lack gall. Hopefully Mr Qadri’s forceful corrections will make those responsible think twice before they try it again.