wrooster British reporters had been writing concerning the remedy of migrant employees construction World Cup stadiums, they could have anticipated to obtain a telephone name from a Qatari founded in Doha, pushing again on their accusations. Instead, newspapers discovered themselves being contacted by way of Britons reminiscent of George Pascoe-Watson, a former political editor of the Sun, difficult the basis in their tale and providing a extra pro-Qatari perspective.
Pascoe-Watson is a senior spouse at Portland, a high-end London-based public family members and lobbying company based by way of Tony Blair’s former adviser, Tim Allan. It is one of the British-based companies who’ve benefited from spinning on behalf of the Qatari govt forward of the World Cup, pushing the Gulf country’s case within the media, and arguing in opposition to damaging protection.
Because whilst England as soon as once more did not win the World Cup, London’s lobbyists and legal professionals operating at the pageant have achieved their perfect to make sure a fortune’s coming house.
“There’s been a very well-organized and well-resourced campaign in place,” mentioned Nicholas McGeehan, an established campaigner on migrant employees’ rights within the area. “Arguments have been constructed very effectively to deflect attention from fair and proportionate criticism.”
One of the explanations for the heavy presence of British PR representatives is that complaint of Qatar’s bid – whether or not the alleged corruption (denied by way of Qatar) occupied with securing the web hosting rights, the remedy of migrant employees, or its loss of LGBTQ+ rights – has been led by way of UK newspapers such because the Guardian and the Sunday Times. While German and Scandinavian information shops have additionally investigated those problems, it’s the English-language media which is more straightforward to learn world wide.
Portland declined to remark at the nature in their paintings in Qatar, even though they have got an administrative center in Doha and feature been operating on quite a lot of Qatari-related contracts since no less than 2014. Early demanding situations integrated coping with the detention of a BBC journalist within the nation and serving to to arrange a weblog that criticized fighters of the rustic web hosting the match. But as time improved, reporters reporting at the World Cup arrangements mentioned the efforts to toughen Qatar’s symbol within the British press changed into smarter and extra refined.
In explicit, they obtain pushback from representatives of Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary common of the World Cup’s organizing committee. He is a Qatari nationwide who attended sixth-form faculty in Scunthorpe sooner than learning legislation on the University of Sheffield and is alleged to take British complaint individually. One British reporter who has handled Thawadi claimed: “He’s completely satisfied that he is this liberal man who in point of fact cares about employees’ rights and stipulations. He’s mortified that the arena would call to mind him as simply some other uncaring Qatari. He telephones his PR other folks in fury each and every time there is a damaging headline about what is taking place in Qatar being right down to him. And he is also much less worse than the majority of the Qatari elite, as a result of they do not care about migrant employees.”
With UK newspapers often uploading their stories to their websites around midnight, newsdesks became used to Qataris on a different timezone waking up in the early hours of the morning and demanding alterations.
One Briton who played an important role in the World Cup press operation is Richard Conway, who as a BBC Sport correspondent in 2018 produced an upbeat report on the preparations for the Qatar World Cup while riding a camel across the desert. A few months later he left journalism to form his own PR agency and has been working exclusively on the Qatar World Cup for several years. Journalists who have dealt with him say he has adopted a hands-off approach, acting as an informal conduit and enabling conversations by inviting critics of the World Cup and prominent newspaper journalists to off-the-record meetings with senior Qatari officials at London hotels.
Many Britons also work for the Qatari division of Teneo Blue Rubicon, a PR agency that has worked hard to promote the country, while journalists who have written critically about the country have also received legal letters from the law firm Carter Ruck. Neither company returned a request for comment on the nature of their work in the country.
One of the gripes among Qatari officials is that they have received criticism for adopting similar tactics to regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Guardian has previously reported on extravagantly funded events held in London where MPs and former footballers received large fees from an unknown source, all with the intention of building opposition to the Qatar World Cup. The organizer of that event also approached the former Conservative election chief, Sir Lynton Crosby – whose company already conducted work for Saudi Arabia – and discussed a £5.5m pound influence campaign to strip Qatar of the right to host the World Cup.
Those nations also spent tens of millions of pounds on lobbying campaigners aimed at western politicians and media outlets, with Qatar feeling they had the right to fight fire with fire.
Despite this, there’s little doubt among Qatar’s critics that the decision to host the World Cup has ultimately transformed the country’s global standing in the media. Low expectations and ethical concerns were ultimately dialed down in media coverage as the football began. Paid influencers have flooded TikTok with upbeat stories from Doha.
And according to McGeehan, who now runs the FairSquare NGO, one of the most effective tactics during the tournament has been to argue that criticism of Qatar is Orientalism, or anti-Arab: “A good PR person understands how that is going to play well. with particular audiences who are sensitive to charges like that. It led to people who would normally be considered as allies in this to essentially engage in the counter-debate, rather than the debate what the issues are.”