Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Fox News aired just one segment about migrant worker deaths during nearly two months of World Cup coverage

Qatar has underwritten Fox Sports coverage of the World Cup, which could help explain why Fox News has largely ignored the thousands of migrant worker deaths tied to the sporting event

In the lead-up to and during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Fox News dedicated just a minute of coverage to Qatar’s decade-long mistreatment of migrant workers, which advocates estimate led to thousands of deaths. Qatar Airways, the state-owned airline, is a major sponsor of the Fox Sports’ coverage of the event.

  • In 2010, Qatar and Russia allegedly bribed executives of FIFA, the international soccer governing body, to vote for the World Cup to be hosted in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. After it won the bid, Qatar got hundreds of thousands migrant workers, many from South Asia, to build the stadiums, hotels, and other public infrastructure necessary to host a global sporting event. Those workers, often saddled with debt because of exorbitantly high recruitment fees, were forced to work long hours in extreme heat. Thousands died.

    Estimates of migrant worker deaths related to the World Cup vary and are difficult to calculate since Qatari government officials have misclassified deaths as having occurred from “natural causes” and failed to implement systems to accurately capture the true death toll. But in early 2021, The Guardian estimated more than 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since 2010. Mustafa Qadri, executive director of labor-rights group Equidem, dubbed the event “a World Cup built on modern slavery.” 

    But viewers would not have this context tuning into Fox News. A Media Matters analysis found that in eight weeks of Fox News’ World Cup coverage — from October 20, a month before the tournament began, through 9 a.m. ET December 16 — the network aired just a minute of coverage on the topic of migrant worker abuse, including one full segment. And that report was marked by its uncritical parroting of Qatari propaganda without any pushback, minimizing the impact of Qatar’s treatment of its migrant workforce.

    During the November 25 edition of Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News foreign correspondent Alex Hogan reported that Qatar had faced “a tremendous amount of scrutiny ahead of hosting the global event over claims of inhumane working conditions” and quoted estimates from human rights organizations that thousands of workers had died building World Cup infrastructure.

    Yet, instead of interviewing human rights experts or migrant workers and their families — which more responsible outlets have done — Hogan sat down with a spokesperson for the Qatari government who disputed figures from human rights organizations and misleadingly claimed that only three workers had died building World Cup stadiums.

  • Video file

    Citation From the November 25, 2022, edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto

    ALEX HOGAN (REPORTER): The small Middle Eastern country faced a tremendous amount of scrutiny ahead of hosting the global event over claims of inhumane working conditions for the workers involved in building the stadiums and World Cup facilities. Human rights groups say that thousands of workers have died, and today I sat down with a senior Qatari official who disputed many of those claims. 


    HOGAN: Is there any acknowledgement about the number of people who might have died building these stadiums?

    FATMA AL NUAIMI (QATAR SUPREME COMMITTEE SPOKESPERSON): There's been a lot of figures being misrepresented in media or around the world. But, I mean, I would like to confirm that, sadly, I mean, the number of workers that have been died on our sites as work-related is three deaths.

  • However, on the November 29 edition of Piers Morgan Uncensored, which is streamed on Fox Nation and aired multiple segments on migrants abuse, senior Qatari official Hassan Al-Thawadi claimed that “between 400 and 500” migrant workers had died during World Cup-related construction projects. 

    In the start of that segment, Morgan defended Qatar against Western criticism, arguing, “The migrants who come here in vast numbers are sometimes mistreated, but the reason they're here in the first place is because the wages they earn are life changing.” He also later argued that European countries “aren’t in any position to take the high moral ground.”

    CNN and other online publications, including CBS, Forbes, The Associated Press, and Axios, quoted the figure from Morgan’s interview. Even fringe right-wing network One America News Network ran the story as a headline on its nightly news program. But Fox News did not make a single mention of this newly reported death toll, even though the figure itself derived from an interview aired on Fox's own streaming platform.

    In addition to the November 25 segment on the topic, Hogan made passing mentions of migrant worker abuse during two other segments that primarily focused on Qatar’s last-minute decision to ban beer sales at its stadiums. 

    During a November 19 segment that previewed the tournament a day before it was set to begin, Hogan mentioned that the lead-up to the World Cup had been “overshadowed” by the host country’s “ban on same-sex relationships and the working conditions for workers who are building these stadiums and facilities. Human rights groups claim that thousands of people have died building these facilities. The Qatari government denies all of these claims.” The next day, on Fox News Live, Hogan again mentioned that the event had been overshadowed by “concerns about inhumane working conditions and LGBTQ+ rights.”

    The Qatari government has underwritten Fox Sports’ coverage of the 2022 World Cup

    Before the tournament, Fox News’ sister organization, Fox Sports, also owned by the Fox Corporation, committed to stick to sports during its World Cup coverage. In a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox Sports Executive Producer David Neal said the network would not cover topics that are “ancillary to the tournament,” including “the construction of the venues or what have you.” 

    Some mainstream media outlets have criticized Fox Sports, which paid more than $400 million for exclusive English-language rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the U.S., for its inane and sanitized coverage of the event. According to The Washington Post, that coverage was largely underwritten by the Qatari government. “Qatar Airways, the state-owned airline, will serve as a major sponsor of the network’s coverage, which means Fox’s production in Qatar is essentially being underwritten by the Qatari government,” the Post reported.

    On December 7, while the tournament was ongoing, a migrant worker from the Philippines died “while performing repairs at the resort used as a FIFA training base for the Saudi Arabia squad.” Fox News was silent. A couple of days later, when asked about the incident, the CEO of Qatar’s World Cup told Reuters “death is a natural part of life, whether it's at work, whether it's in your sleep.” While other news organizations reported on the callous comment, Fox News still remained silent. 

    As the World Cup rounds to a close on December 18, viewers can expect a boring, sanitized, and controversy-free version of the event’s conclusion on Fox News and Fox Sports.

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Qatar,” “World Cup,” “football,” “soccer,” or “FIFA” within close proximity of any of the terms “abuse,” “rights,” “women,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” “migrant,” “labor,” “death,” “die,” “Nepal,” “India,” “Bangladesh,” “Pakistan,” “Sri Lanka,” “Philippines,” “kafala,” “Sharia,” “zina,” “guardianship,” “indentured,” “armband,” “worker,” or “servitude” or any variation of any of the terms “LGBT,” “slave,” or “protest” from October 20, 2022, one month prior to the lead up to the World Cup, to 9 a.m. ET December 16, 2022.

    We counted segments, which we defined as instances when Qatar’s human rights abuses was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of Qatar’s human rights abuses. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in the multitopic segments discussed Qatar’s human rights record with one another.

    We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances with a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Qatar’s human rights abuses without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Qatar’s human rights abuses scheduled to air later in the broadcast. 

    We then reviewed the identified segments for any of the following claims: those that discussed Qatar’s human rights abuses against women or the LGBTQ community or that mentioned Qatar’s abuse of migrant workers brought into the country to build the necessary infrastructure to host the World Cup games.