Qatar complained to the Guardian last month, disputing the newspaper’s story that the country’s official news and social media websites were hacked. The Qatari government claims that the sites were hacked and that the country was “the victim of ‘fake news’.”
In a story published May 25, the Guardian had reported that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates blocked Qatar’s websites because of quotes found on them about other Middle Eastern countries, including positive comments toward Iran. The quotes in question were attributed to the emir of Qatar and Qatar’s foreign minister. But, Qatar says they are fake quotes that were posted during the hack.
Qatar’s Government Communications Office director Saif Ahmed Al Thani sent the Guardian a letter criticizing the newspaper’s article about the hack, arguing that the article “lends credence to the idea” that the fake quotes were real, which Thani denied.
Thani insisted that the hack was real and the quotes were fake, explaining that within 45 minutes of Qatari officials discovering the hacked Qatar News Agency website, the government’s communications department released a statement to that effect. iMediaEthics has written to the Qatar government website seeking a copy of that timestamped statement.
Thani added that Qatar’s Twitter and YouTube accounts had also been hacked to post a false claim that Qatar’s foreign minister wanted “the ambassadors from a number of Gulf Cooperation Council countries to leave Qatar” and to show a fake news video.
“Qatar was the victim of ‘fake news’, and we have been working hard since the hacking incident to set the record straight,” Thani wrote. “We have been especially troubled by the fact that various news organisations chose to reprint the bogus quotes even after the authenticity of those remarks had been categorically denied by our government.”
Government Communications Office Statement Regarding Hacking of Qatar News Agency and False Statements: pic.twitter.com/zRWD1HTx1f
— Qatar Embassy USA (@QatarEmbassyUSA) May 24, 2017
iMediaEthics wrote to the Guardian to ask if the newspaper had seen the denial before its original article. The Guardian told us, “On 25 May 2017 we published a article reporting that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had blocked Qatari media over incendiary statements. This included reference to Qatar’s claims that its official websites had been hacked. We have subsequently given the Qatari government right of reply by publishing a letter from the Qatari Government Communications Office about the issue. Following this letter our independent readers’ editor made an amendment to the article – concerning the mention of a scrolling ticker – which has been clearly footnoted.”
The Guardian has since published a corrective note at the bottom of its article reading:
” This article was amended on 30 May 2017. An earlier version referred to a scrolling ticker on Qatari state television’s nightly newscast. After this was published the Qatari government wrote a letter saying that the ticker was only on a doctored version of the newscast on the Qatari News Agency’s YouTube channel, which had been hacked.”