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Robert Menard and staff leave Doha Centre for Media Freedom

June 24, 2009

International press freedom campaigner Robert Ménard has resigned as director-general of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, which he had headed since April 2008. Ménard stepped down on 19 June because the Qatari authorities wanted to restrict what Centre said. Other members of the staff have also resigned.

"For several months we were an independent voice that condemned violations and had only one concern – the truth," Ménard said. "We helped more than 250 endangered journalists and media around the world and I think we can be proud of that.

"But certain Qatari officials never wanted an independent Centre, one that was free to express its views without being limited by political or diplomatic considerations, one that was free to criticise Qatar itself. But how can you be credible if you say nothing about the problems in the country in which you are based?

"The Centre has been stifled. We no longer had either freedom or resources to work. This could not go on. I was ready to make compromises as long as what was essential – the ability to distribute aid and express our views – was safe. This was no longer the case."

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said: "We are disappointed by the attitude of the Qatari authorities, who did not really want to play along and did everything possible to prevent the Centre from being independent. Robert Ménard and his staff were targeted as soon as they criticised press freedom violations in Qatar although it was a prerequisite for the Centre to be credible. Several of the Emir′s aides did not understand this."

Julliard added: "This is regrettable and rather discouraging for those who believe in the future of press freedom in the region. Reporters Without Borders was behind this project but now it clearly seems the experience is over."

The Doha Centre′s achievements include the creation of Somina, a Somali news agency. It also distributed bullet-proof vests to journalists in Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Gaza, and supplied newsprint to newspapers in Guinea-Bissau that had stopped publishing because of a shortage.

The personnel in charge of the Doha Centre′s assistance, research and communication sections have also left. The Centre was created at the initiative of Sheikha Mozah, the emir of Qatar′s wife, and Reporters Without Borders in December 2007. Ménard, who founded Reporters Without Borders and ran it for 23 years, until 1 October 2008, took over as the Doha Centre′s director general on 1 April 2008.

For more information contact:
Alexandre Jalbert
Reporters without Borders
Phone: 00 33 1 44 83 84 82

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