Anyone entering Qatar by way of the Doha International Airport has no doubt noticed the large billboards prominently advertising upcoming events, new real estate developments, fast cars, hot fashions, and any other information of potential interest to people here. Historically billboard advertisements were governed by Law No (4) of 1980. However in March 2012 a new Law No (1) of 2012 was promulgated setting out new requirements in relation to the control and placement of advertisements (Advertising Law).
Pursuant to the Advertising Law an advertisement is broadly defined as any means of communication aimed at informing the public or a specific sector of the public about certain industrial or commercial goods or products, devices, machinery, activities, or commercial, industrial, or professional acts whether through writings, drawings, images, sound, lights, or other means of expression and whether the advertisement appears on wood, metal, paper, cloth, plastic, or other material.
Prior to displaying an advertisement a licence must be obtained from the relevant municipality in which the advertisement will appear (Relevant Municipality), and the related fees and insurance charges must be paid. An applicant seeking a licence will be required to complete an application form accompanied by a drawing or sketch detailing the content of the advertisement.
There are several specific prerequisites that an advertisement must satisfy prior to the issuance of a licence by the Relevant Municipality.
These prerequisites are as follows:
- The primary language of the advertisement must be Arabic. Translations into other languages is permitted subject to the specific controls determined by the Relevant Municipality;
- The advertisement content must not be injurious to Islam or any other religion;
- The advertisement must not be contrary to public order, morals, traditions, or customs;
- The design of the advertisement must not be similar to traffic signs or other official signage, whether in relation size, form, or colour;
- The advertisement may not be constructed in such a way as to hinder traffic or pedestrians, impede the functioning of traffic lights, or obstruct rescue operations;
- If the advertisement is erected on a plot of land not owned by the applicant applying for the licence, then the written approval of the land owner or his representative must be obtained;
- Installing the advertisement must not cause harm to public facilities, endanger lives or property, or adversely affect the aesthetics of the area or the city as a whole;
- The advertisement must comply with the specific controls set out by the Relevant Municipality;
- Trademarks, trade names, and data contained in an advertisement must not contravene law, fact, or official data; and
- If the advertisement is installed on a building, it must not endanger, damage, or disturb the beneficiaries of the building, nor may it block visibility or vents.
Each licence that is issued by the Relevant Municipality in respect of an advertisement is temporary, and the advertisement must be removed on the expiration of the licence. Furthermore, licences may not be assigned to third parties unless consent to do so has been obtained by the Relevant Municipality.
The licence holder is responsible for performing maintenance regarding the advertisement, and if such maintenance is not performed within seven days of notification by the Relevant Municipality, the advertisement may be removed at the licence holder's expense. The advertisement may also be removed if it violates the terms of its licence.
The Advertising Law specifically prohibits an advertisement being placed or installed on religious sites, historic or monumental buildings or structures, trees or plant containers, or traffic signals including crossing indicators.
However not all categories of advertisement require the payment of a fee and insurance charge. According to the Advertising Law billboards or advertisements posted on commercial, industrial, or general stores that relate to their business are exempt from the fee and insurance charge requirement. Also exempt from the such requirements are advertisements placed or managed by a charity, religious, social, or cultural authority or institution (if related to the objectives of the institution); advertisements posted or managed by governmental bodies for public occasions such as holidays or sporting events; and advertisements relating to social occasions. However, it appears that each of these types of advertisement will still require a licence from the Relevant Municipality.
The Advertising Law does not apply to newspaper advertisements.
A violation of certain provisions of the Advertising Law may be subject to a fine of up to QAR 20,000. Furthermore, a court may also order the removal of the advertisement, and require the restoration of the property on which the advertisement was placed at the expense of the violator. It is therefore imperative that the requisite licence is obtained from the Relevant Municipality prior to displaying the advertisement.
All Qatari Laws (save for those issued by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) to regulate its own business) are issued in Arabic and there are no official translations, therefore for the purposes of drafting this article we have used our own translation and interpreted the same in the context of Qatari regulation and current market practice.