Media, Middle East and Qatari Reconciliation

At a summit in January 2021, a number of GCC countries including the UAE who had stopped trade and travel links with Qatar agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Qatar. A joint declaration brokered by Kuwait and the United States pledged to “restore collaboration” among the six members of the GCC, (although notably, the declaration didn’t include any specific timelines).

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has said that the UAE was "behind this deal, and positive about the prospect of re-establishing relations with Qatar” adding that "The return of movement [of people] and trade between the two countries... will be within a week of the signing,". It is interesting that Qatar Airways has already announced that it will start flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi from January 27 2021.

The normalisation of these regional relationship is promising on a number of fronts, for both businesses and individuals. The FIFA World Cup is set to be held in Qatar in 2022, in what is a milestone for the region. FIFA themselves have noted that Qatar is the first west Asian nation and also the smallest country to host a FIFA World Cup. This is the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world. The normalising of relations will (amongst other things) present opportunities for the increased exploitation of media rights in the region. Broadcasters will benefit from the reconciliation, as well as those servicing and advising broadcasters.

In a sign of progress, we understand that Qatar’s Al Jazeera and KSA’s Al Arabiya are exploring reunifying their news content following the reconciliation. This raises the possibility of them coordinating their news coverage. Al Hudood has suggested that the first phase of this “will remind Gulf citizens of the things they have in common with their neighbours, like history, religion, language… etc”.

Media financing could also benefit from the revised political situation. In 2017, the Doha Film Institute (a leading source of financing for Arab films) was stopped from providing grants to projects coming from Emirati, Saudi and Egyptian filmmakers. It is expected that in light of the changing political landscape, the Doha Film Institute will be able to provide funding to a broader range of Arab beneficiaries again. While there are other sources of funding available such as the Jeddah based Red Sea Film Festival fund, the return of the Doha Film Institute’s benefaction can only be seen as additional fuel to the fire of the Middle Eastern creative industry.

Fully restoring diplomatic ties will take time as parties on both sides work to rebuild trust. As part of this rebuilding there will be a number of opportunities across the GCC. It is undoubtedly good news for the Middle East’s media, entertainment and creative landscape. Reconciliation should increase distribution opportunities for broadcasters and media agencies as well as increasing options relating to content, financing and territory. Qatar 2022 is expected to be greatly boosted by the change in political circumstances. I am personally looking forward to watching Qatar 2022, regardless of whether this will involve a flight to Qatar, or watching on my sofa at home (through my beIN set top box).

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