By Jelisaveta Blagojevic* –
Media platforms in Bahrain have come under increased pressure from the regime, after the eruption of the protest against it at the beginning of 2011. As the main international and Bahraini research organizations reported (Freedom House, Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, International Crisis Group), the Bahraini Government has been disrupting the communication channels of the international and domestic media during the protests, as well as its aftermath. It has been conducting very repressive measures against the opposition media platforms through banning and arresting of journalists and bloggers.
The 2002 Bahraini Press Law represents the main legal basis for conducting the mentioned measures, taking into account that it, inter alia, restricts reporting on the topics that might, in the view of authorities, “harm the ruling system, its religion, and [disturb] public decency.” Additionally, the Law prescribes a minimum of six months imprisonment for criticizing the king and up to five years for second-time offenders. In fact, all newspapers are private, but the Information Affairs Authority has the power to supervise and censor its distribution.
The public perception of the uprisings in the other Arab states largely depends on media reports about it. The (in)dependence of media reporting determines the behaviour and attitude of population towards some issues. How Bahraini media reports about „Arab uprisings“ shape the domestic reaction. The Gulf Daily News (GDN), also known as self-proclaimed “The Voice of Bahrain”, has covered the news and politics related to “Arab uprisings” mainly in a neutral, informative, and descriptive manner.
During the protests in Egypt against President Mohamed Mursi, the GDN covered the main views and positions of the military, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the GDN didn’t provide critical analysis of such events in comparison with other regional and world media platforms, that gave explicit meaning to this political changes like “second revolution“(DW, 2013, the Guardian, 2013) or even “military coup“ (Al Arabia, 2013, CNN, 2013).
This media coverage is similar to the coverage of the Syrian civil war. The GDN has covered the domestic criticism towards the Assad regime, as well as the actions of the Bahraini Government, but without critical reviews and independent opinions. For example, the GDN reported the statement of the Bahraini Parliament: “We praise His Majesty King Hamad for his directives to provide Syrian refugees with $20 million, which shows the true nature of the Bahraini people”.
Moreover, the GDN denounced the Reuters special report on the instability of the mentioned countries: “…Ease and abruptness of Mursi’s overthrow underlines the fragility of the Arab Spring that toppled a string of Middle East autocrats. Hopes that popular rebellions might lead to democracy taking root remain largely unfulfilled, although the experiment is still in progress in Tunisia“. The explanation for this broadcast can be found in an intention of GDN to show the negative side of the eventual regime change to Bahraini citizens.
Consequently, the validity of the GDN International news cannot be taken for granted, as it is remarkably framed in accordance with the internal and foreign policy interest of the Bahraini ruling family. The regime’s oversight of the GDN media platform causes self-censuring of the GDN. In that way, the royal family shapes the domestic perception of the uprisings in the other Arab states. In that context, the Voice of Bahrain can’t be considered as the voice of critical reporting with regard to these uprisings.
*PhD researcher at La Sapienza University of Roma, Italy