The President of the Bahraini Journalists Association (BJA):
Some officials are easily annoyed by what is written
In light of recent developments regarding the Bahraini Parliament’s
discussion of the new Press Law bill, and due to the importance
of freedom of expression as a distinctive feature of the human rights
issue, the BHRM conducted an interview with the President of the
BJA Issa Alshaiji. A number of urgent issues relating to the bill
were discussed in the interview, including the activities of the
BJA and its relations with regional and international organizations,
as well as the BJA’s views of the newly published reports on the
margin of freedom of expression in Bahrain.
What is the BJA’s position on the current debate
regarding the Press bill? What are your standards in assessing this
bill? And to what extent are the Parliament and Executive Authority
responding to controversial issues, such as punishing journalists
and Government censorship of the internet and the media?
The efforts of the BJA are not new, and since the issuing of
the 2002 Press Law it has participated in all activities and meetings
held to develop the Law. The BJA has also presented written comments
to both the Government and Parliament in this regard. As for the
standards we adhere to, these represent the honorable position of
His Majesty the King, which opposes the detention of journalists
and calls for a contemporary Press Law. Our standards also include
the principles put forward by the Activation of the National Action
Charter Committee, chaired by HH the Crown Prince; international
conventions and the varied experiences of the Bahraini media. As
mentioned earlier, the BJA presented its comments to the Government
and Parliament, and both responded well to them. We hope the country
will adjust to democratic life, annul detention as a punishment
for journalists and separate the Press Law from the Penal Code.
With regards to the extent of Government censorship of the media,
I can say that this is practically non-existent. However, the media
is subjected to the supervision and censorship of Bahraini society
and other organizations. The internet in particular is censored,
and many web sites have previously been blocked for different reasons.
The Press Law, which is expected to pave the way for the establishment
of private radio and TV channels, is still under discussion in Parliament,
and has not yet been passed.
|International human rights reports
on Bahrain are based on inaccurate
information i.e. on the opinions of politicians,
How do you assess the experience of the BJA since
its establishment? To what extent has it benefitted the freedom,
political and intellectual independence of journalists? And what
is your relationship with your counterpart societies in the region,
as well as international organizations concerned with public freedoms?
The establishment of the BJA was a result of considerable efforts
by Bahraini journalists for many years, and we appreciate all their
efforts and sacrifices. This establishment was difficult, but with
these efforts all obstacles have been removed, and the BJA has continued
its path with determination and has become an influential body.
Despite its limited resources, the BJA has tried and still strives
to achieve gains for journalists, and today we are trying to establish
a fund in solidarity with journalists, the details of which will
be announced soon. BJAed on its objectives, the BJA defended journalists
in courts and appointed lawyers for them, attended interrogations
carried out by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued solidarity
statements with journalists, and settled many cases friendly BJAed
on the agreement with the Public Prosecutor. The BJA has strong
and wide-reaching relationships with many regional organizations
and unions, and participates with them in some activities. Also,
the BJA is proud to be among the first organizations in the Gulf
who have joined the General Federation of Arab Journalists and was
the second journalistic Arab organization after Palestine to be
accepted as a member in the International Federation of Journalists
At the international level, the BJA enjoys strong relationships
with several organizations concerned with freedom of expression,
and organized joint activities and workshops. Recently, an office
for the IFJ was opened in Bahrain, and the Committee for Ethical
Journalism was established. This is a great achievement for Bahraini
journalists and the Bahraini media.
The journalist and the politician in the Arab World
are seen as representing two different visions and interests, let
alone two authorities (the press, known as the ‘fourth authority’
and the Executive Authority) and are not necessarily in harmony
with each other. How do you assess the relationship between journalists
in general, and the Executive Authority? And how do you envision
this relationship to be in the future?
There is no special relationship between journalists and the
Executive Authority, as the Press Law regulates the work of journalists
and their relations with various parties (although we still have
some reservations regarding the Law). Despite the fact that the
political leadership directs officials on different occasions to
cooperate with journalists, there are some officials in public institutions
who do not accept any media criticisms. They therefore refuse to
cooperate with journalists and conceal from them information and
advertisements as a means of applying pressure. This also applies
to some private institutions, which also attempted to conceal information
and advertisement from the press when they were being criticized.
When His Majesty the King launched his democratic reform project,
which included supporting the press, the position of the Bahraini
press was promoted and it became an influential power. We urge officials
for more cooperation with journalists, as we all share the same
goal, which is serving the country and the people.
|Some officials refuse to cooperate
with journalists and bar information and advertisements from
means of pressure
A number of international reports were issued recently
regarding freedom of expression in Bahrain such as Reporters without
Borders’ report on the freedom of the press in the country. Some
reports have criticized the level of press freedom in the country
and freedom of expression in general. As a body concerned with promoting
freedom of expression, how do you assess the status of freedom of
press in the past decade, and since the beginning of the reforms?
And how do you envision its future? And what is your opinion of
Thanks to His Majesty’s democratic reform project which allowed
the press to be free, the press in Bahrain has developed significantly
and there has been a rise in the number of newspapers in the country.
We as journalists felt the effects of this newly gained margin of
freedom, and the influential role of the press. It is true that
the courts have witnessed some lawsuits, but most were not filed
by the Government against journalists, but rather from individuals
and institutions. The Public Prosecutor has also cooperated positively
with journalists and with the BJA, and we appreciate this.
Since the beginning of the reform project, it is clear that the
margin of freedom of expression in the press has widened, and journalism
is now being practiced responsibly. With the ratification of a developed
Press Law in the near future, it expected that the press will play
a more important role in the future.
With regards to the international reports, it is important to
draw attention to an important point, which is that the sources
of information of some of these reports are inaccurate. Therefore,
their results are not realistic and do not meet the required standards.
These reports are not BJAed on journalists’ opinions, but reflect
politicians’ points of view. We urge these organizations to verify
their information and depend on journalists themselves for their
Some people believe that the state of the press
in Bahrain is declining, especially with regards to the level of
professionalism and the lack of expertise and qualified staff. Others
also think that the Bahraini press is dominated by politics and
ideological polarization. To what extent do you think this is correct,
and how it affects the role of the press in awareness raising?
To some extent what you have mentioned is true, for our press
is suffering from polarization as well as the existence of some
journalists with various political affiliations. In addition, some
journalists refuse to attend workshops and training courses organized
to develop journalistic skills. There is also the lack of well qualified
staff. All these problems have affected the level of professionalism
in the press. We hope that the administrations of these newspapers
will make more efforts in order to develop the expertise of their
staff, by encouraging them to participate in training courses. We
also hope that journalists will adhere to the standards of professionalism
and neutrality in their work.