Several liberal media outlets have recently partnered with the decidedly illiberal Qatari government to produce a series of debates aimed at Americans called the “Doha Debates.”
The debate series, which is funded by the regime-controlled Qatar Foundation, feature highbrow panel discussions filmed before a live audience in a world-class television studio that can be seen online on NowThis, Vox, and TED Talks, among others. Left un-debated and unmentioned in the programming is Qatar’s egregious record on human rights, which includes forced labor, draconian anti-gay laws and institutional anti-Semistism—not to mention the country’s welcoming posture toward Islamic terrorists.
In an oped at the Washington Examiner, anti-slavery activist Charles Jacobs, the president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, decried the debate series as a “smokescreen” that is designed to “obscure some of the most anti-progressive domestic and foreign policies in the world.”
“Doha Debates is the latest cunning public relations move by an illiberal regime that has been able to ingratiate itself to Western liberal elites with remarkable ease,” said Jacobs.
Doha Debates first ran from 2005 to 2012, and was relaunched in 2018 under a new format using live debates, videos, blogs and podcasts.
Special events have featured Q&A sessions with a single guest that included liberal figures such as former president Bill Clinton, Egyptian law scholar and diplomat Mohamed El Baradei, and Israeli politician Shimon Peres.
According to Jacobs, the Qatar-funded debate series has become popular in America because “for some outlets in today’s journalism business, liberal values are just platitudes served up to a gullible audience.”
I have spent much of my career fighting modern-day slavery, and I can say, without any doubt, that the Qatari government is one of the biggest obstacles to expunging slavery from the world. Nearly 90% of Qatar’s population consists of foreign workers who are subjected to draconian labor practices that keep them locked inside the country and dependent on their employer. These workers suffer dangerous working conditions for very little pay, when they are paid at all. According to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of mostly South Asian workers are “at the mercy of exploitative bosses and at risk of serious human rights abuses including forced labor.” Forced labor is defined by abolitionists as a form of modern slavery — compelling a person to work under the threat of violence for little or no pay.
In two years, millions will watch as Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup — an honor credibly alleged to have been purchased through a massive campaign of bribery, graft, and corruption. In preparation for that event, some 2 million migrant laborers are working in appalling conditions to build the infrastructure necessary to host the games. An estimated 4,000 of these workers will die because of dangerous work conditions.
Added to Qatar’s flagrant human rights abuses: The tiny Persian Gulf state was ranked in one study as the second-most dangerous place in the world for gays, between Nigeria and Yemen. Today in Qatar, homosexuality is still punished with one to three years in prison, flogging, or execution. Al Jazeera, owned and funded by the Qatari regime, broadcasts preachers of anti-Semitic hate as regular programming. Leaders of terrorist groups such as Hamas are proudly hosted in luxury accommodations by the Qatari regime.
Jacobs argued that “for the right price, NowThis will ignore an egregious human rights record and overlook modern-day slavery” and “Vox Media will embrace a government whose treatment of laborers, gays, and minorities should relegate it to the darkest corners of the family of nations.”
Vox Media’s values include “quality, respect for all, inclusivity, and risk taking.” Group Nine Media, which owns NowThis, Thrillist, and others, promises to provide media that “ignites action” and “inspires optimism.” Its stories, it claims, should “embrace individuality” and “champion inclusion.”
Nowhere do outlets such as Vox mention partnering with a government that enslaves thousands of vulnerable migrant workers. Nor does NowThis admit to collaborating with the persecution of gays.
Group Nine Media does refer to itself, however, as a company that encourages people to “be brave” and “be honest.”
The anti-slavery activist challenged participants in the Doha Debates to “be brave” about their relationship with Qatar and “be honest about how much money Qatar has paid” them for their silence on its human rights record.
A challenge for partners of the @DohaDebates like @TEDTalks @NowThis @Voxmediainc: Be honest about how much money Qatar has paid for your silence on its human rights record. What strings were attached? Time to https://t.co/GN7ovMou1m https://t.co/8Jr7AybpwS
— Charles Jacobs (@DrCharlesJacobs) December 6, 2019
A few progressive media orgs–@TEDTalks @NowThis @Voxmediainc–have quietly partnered with the Islamist and human rights violating regime in Qatar to produce @dohadebates, a debate series aimed at Americans. Tell them to https://t.co/GN7ovMou1m https://t.co/8Jr7AybpwS pic.twitter.com/9XyMVpbdCK
— Charles Jacobs (@DrCharlesJacobs) December 6, 2019