Keep up focus on rights in Qatar argue Index panel ahead of World Cup

“If there is ever an opportunity to try and pretend a country is a nice country, it’s when everyone is diverted by someone kicking a football,” said Ruth Smeeth, CEO of Index on Censorship. Smeeth was introducing a panel discussion entitled “Qatar 2022: When Football and Free Speech Collide”. Hosted in collaboration with Liverpool John Moores University, the event marked the launch of the Autumn 2022 edition of the Index on Censorship magazine, which looks at the role of football in extending or crushing rights ahead of the Qatar World Cup.

Index on Censorship Editor-in-Chief Jemimah Steinfeld was joined by David Randles, the BA Sports Journalism programme leader at Liverpool John Moores University, who has spent much of his career on sports desks and in press boxes. She was also joined by Connor Dunn, a public relations account manager who deals with big names from the football world, including Liverpool footballer Trent Alexander-Arnold, and was formerly a journalist at Reach PLC.

The issue of whether the FIFA World Cup 2022 being held in Qatar will be a force of change for good was prominent. Dunn was unsure whether there would be any long-term change in the country but felt there will in the short term, saying that “Qatar will want to show the world they are the best country on earth. They’ll be lax with those sort of rules people in the West will be used to [the human rights violations], as there will be potential for stories to be blown up”.

Therein lies a danger, as Steinfeld pointed out. Reeling off a series of examples, she said: “All of the editorials said that while France won the 2018 World Cup Putin was the real winner. The world forgot about the invasion about Crimea.” The fear therefore is that Qatar will relax their attacks on human rights during the tournament, court international leaders, put on a great show and as a result people will walk away with a much better impression of the country than they really should.

Despite attempts to appear more moderate, Randles said that he thinks most minorities would not visit the country due to safety issues. He said: “Would you go to support your team in a regime which doesn’t support you? I don’t think so. If you don’t feel safe, why would you go?” He also pointed out the fact that in Qatar’s neighbouring country Saudi Arabia (whose Sovereign Fund bought Newcastle FC last year), women still cannot attend football games.

Naturally discussion came round to the issue of migrant workers, who have died in huge numbers during the building of infrastructure for Qatar. Sadly the exact numbers are hard to come by, a nature of how tightly information is controlled in the country.

Dunn though highlighted one potential positive that has emerged from the heightened awareness of awful working conditions in Qatar. With claims of potential slave labour being used due to Qatar’s punitive ‘Kafala’ system (which has since been reformed on the back of World Cup coverage), there are hopes for reparations in the future. Dunn said: “There are calls to give the same amount of money the World Cup winner will win, which is about 440 million dollars, to make reparations and give that to underpaid migrant workers and families of those who have died. It’s not a big chunk of the predicted profits from the tournament but goes some way to changing things.”

On other positives that could come out of Qatar, all the panel agreed that football still has a unique way to be transformative. Steinfeld cited Permi Jhooti’s story from the new magazine which inspired the film Bend it Like Beckham, an interview with the head of the Afghan Women’s football team and the England Lionesses winning the recent European Championships for the nation’s first major trophy in 56 years.

And of course footballers, with their millions of fans, are often more listened to than politicians and could use their platform when in the country to raise rights issues. While they accepted that footballers shouldn’t be compelled to speak up, the event was full of examples of those who have – like Marcus Rushford and his campaign for free school meals – and in so doing have brought about important and far-reaching societal change.

Honouring Tim Hetherington: New fellowship to train young journalist

Tim Hetherington’s mission to create a better understanding of the world cast him in many roles: photojournalist, filmmaker, human rights advocate, artist and a leading thinker in media innovation. He was killed in Libya by a mortar in in April 2011.

Tim Hetherington’s mission to create a better understanding of the world cast him in many roles: photojournalist, filmmaker, human rights advocate, artist and a leading thinker in media innovation. He was killed in Libya by a mortar in in April 2011. (Photo: Tim Hetherington Trust)

New journalism graduate Josie Timms has been awarded the first Liverpool John Moores University/Tim Hetherington Fellowship, in conjunction with Index on Censorship.

The fellowship, which was launched this year by the three organizations, will offer the winning journalism graduate a full-time one-year contract to join the editorial team at Index on Censorship magazine and website.

“Tim spent his whole life challenging limitations on expression, including a period of time spent as an investigator for the United Nations Security Council’s Liberia Sanctions Committee. The opportunity to introduce new talent to work in this vital field is unmissable and we wholeheartedly join with LJMU and Index to promote the values of free speech and political expression,” Stephen Mayes, executive director of the Tim Hetherington Trust, said.

The new annual fellowship, named after photojournalist, filmmaker and artist Tim Hetherington, includes the opportunity for the prize winner to report on national and international free expression issues in Index’s award-winning quarterly magazine and website. The fellow will work closely with creative writers and artists in countries where they experience censorship from governments, religious groups and others.

“The Index team, and the new fellow, research and write international stories from conflict zones that reflect Tim Hetherington’s commitment to human rights and free expression,” Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine, said.

Timms, the winner of the fellowship, said: “I am thrilled to have been offered the fellowship and the Index on Censorship post. I have worked very hard throughout university and it is great to see that this has paid off by being offered this role. I am looking forward to starting the internship and to begin what I hope to be a long and successful career in journalism.”

Speaking for LJMU, Steve Harrison, senior lecturer in journalism at LJMU, said, “The link with Index on Censorship and the Tim Hetherington Trust help broaden our students’ appreciation of the value of freedom of expression and why it is worth fighting for.”

Timms will be formally presented with her fellowship award at an Index debate in October 2015.