Across the years some have argued that the most important factor needed to ensure that people are free — politically, intellectually and creatively free, to be entrepreneurs, inventors and discoverers — is education. Others have said it is journalism. Those of us in journalism education have a double responsibility and a double opportunity.
Right now we at Northwestern University have that double opportunity in Doha’s Education City, to which we were invited by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.
When we accepted the Qatar Foundation’s invitation to bring Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to the Region, there were more than a few skeptics. They told us that an American journalism school could not practice here what it preaches there, reminding us that the media here are owned or licensed by governments, that women are often abused here and gay people persecuted, that rich men here often keep prostitutes in secret suites and that the royal family might “suggest” the grades we give family members. I was shocked by those notions, mostly because I had hoped that once I left the United States those things would be behind me; in the US radio and television is licensed by the government, there are special shelters established for all the abused women, gays have always been persecuted, even the governor of New York had high- priced prostitutes at his disposal and it is not unheard of in the US for a faculty member to hear from some poobah trying to influence grades, especially for a student athlete.
Still, I know things here will be different, even difficult. I am not naïve. I have been heartened, however, by what I have heard and seen: I heard with my own ears Qatar’s First Lady, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nazzer Al-Missned, chairperson of the Foundation, say that a free press is the best assurance of the kind of civil society that she dreams of for Qatar and all the Middle East. I heard Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani, the Foundation’s vice president for education, say he believes bringing Northwestern and its brand of journalism here “will promote a maturing of our society into one where everyone can have a voice and everyone is accountable. A vibrant, healthy media scene will bring about greater transparency and accountability, and these are hallmarks of successful, participative societies. They are not qualities for which our region is well known internationally, but they are essential to the implementation of Her Highness’ vision of releasing and developing human potential for the common good.” Privately, Dr. Abdulla assured me that if Her Highness Sheikha Mozah did not want genuine journalism here she surely would not have invited the best US journalism school.
That’s what they say. But here’s also what they’ve done: written freedom of the press into the constitution; created the Arab Foundation for Democracy with a $10 million endowment from the emir to encourage the development of a civil society and freedom of the press; created the Doha Debates to promote free speech; launched Al Jazeera television and now they’re advertising for a staff for the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, which will have a strategic alliance with Reporters Without Borders.
That said, we have our work cut out for us. Despite what the emir and the sheikha have done in Qatar, the local press still seems like it’s from another era, with grip-and-grin pictures of the emir on the front page daily, though I must say that in just one year I have seen improvements. We are mindful, though, that with just 20 students in our first class of undergraduates, it will be a while before Northwestern has here the impact it has long had in the US. (Let me say, to plant an idea, that of the 20 or so students we hope to enroll each year, not all will be Qataris, though the Qataris who meet our admissions standards will have their tuition paid by the Qatar government. Students with other passports will need some financial support.)
But to achieve our goals outside the US we won’t wait just for those 20 youngsters we enroll each year to get into newsrooms, first as interns and then as cub reporters. In cooperation with the Qatar Foundation, we intend also to offer here the kind of executive education we are known for in the States, and maybe some “continuing education” for working journalists not yet at the executive level. Many media executives from the Middle East and North Africa already know us through our Media Management Center and the IREX (International Research and Exchange Board) programs we have on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Illinois. We want to bring those programs here. Also, through Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the Qatar Foundation we are considering more general executive management and marketing programs for those who aren’t necessarily in the media. The details are still being worked out, but Northwestern University — and especially those of us on the University’s Doha campus — feel the responsibility to use our research and our faculty to help improve leadership capabilities, develop strategies for growth through innovation and do everything else our double responsibility and double opportunity mandate of us.
Richard J. Roth is a professor and the senior associate dean responsible for the journalism program at Northwestern University’s first international campus in Doha, Qatar