Improving the Media and Enhancing Freedom of Expression
All forms of the Bahraini media, the official and private, were
victims of the events that took place in February 2011. The media
also played a role in inciting sectarianism and contributed to oppressing
freedom of expression and violated journalists’ rights. Freedom
of expression was violated and strict censorship was imposed during
past months. Due to sharp political and sectarian polarizations,
hatred and incitement prevailed over the language of logic and reason.
Many local and international journalists were badly treated, threatened,
harassed, detained and dismissed according to the report of the
The Bahraini experience in freedom of expression before the events
of February 2011 was not bad. Everyone was expecting and hoping
for a new press law to be passed by Parliament, which would increase
the margin of freedom of expression and live up to the expectation
of the youth, but the recent unrest damaged Bahrain’s media image.
It is obvious that Bahrain needs to reconsider all the previous
steps, which were taken to restrict freedom of expression, and it
also needs a developed media law. The future of public freedoms
should be dealt with wisely taking into consideration the current
situation - post Bassiouni’s report - and the future of the next
Currently, the media in Bahrain is divided into two sides; one
represents the official view and the other represents the opposition,
which reflects a clear social and political division. The impact
of the official media has clearly decreased after the unrest because
many have lost trust in it which raises a question, what is the
point of having a one-sided media that directs its message to one
group only? How can the Government accept the fact that its official
media has no effect on a large segment of society? And who is responsible
The reason for public repulsion of the official media was the
result of many media mistakes such as the abandonment of a unifying
discourse and the failure to reflect the concerns and interests
of all citizens. This factional media is stereotyped and only its
supporters listen to it and believe it. This kind of media is not
acceptable to the opposition and should not be associated with the
Government, which should respect its citizens and try to solve their
problems and express their concerns. When State media fails to achieve
this it is obvious that part of the society is going to look for
different media options such as that of the opposition or foreign
sources which are more credible.
Some say that state media and especially the State TV channels
tried to include other parties during the beginning of the unrest
but the opposition refused to participate which affected balancing
The President of Information Affairs Authority (IAA) Shaikh Fawaz
bin Mohammed Al Khalifa said that the opposition was not prevented
from appearing on State TV and that 300 Shia figures from the opposition
and civil society organizations were invited to appear on TV but
all directly refused or excused themselves (Al Arabia Net, 25/11/2011).
Section (1640) of the BICI report stated that ‘it is clear that
the media in Bahrain is biased towards the GOB. Six of the seven
daily newspapers are pro-government and the broadcasting service
is State-controlled. The continuing failure to provide opposition
groups with an adequate voice in the national media risks further
exasperating the political and ethnic divide in Bahrain. The lack
of access to mainstream media creates frustration within opposition
groups and results in these groups resorting to other media outlets
such as the social media. This can have a destabilising effect because
social media outlets are both untraceable and unaccountable; characteristics
which present problems when such media is used to spread rhetoric
full of hatred and incitement to violence’. The BICI report section
(1640) recommended that the Government of Bahrain ‘consider relaxing
censorship and allowing the opposition greater access to television
broadcasts, radio broadcasts and print Media’.
State media should represent the whole country and reflect the
cultural, political and sectarian diversity of the Bahraini society.
When the state media becomes biased it will be unable to conceal
other opinions. It is no longer possible to monopolize the media
and it is not acceptable for different views to disappear from the
scene. Representing just one side of the story highlights the failure
of media to represent different segments of the society that have
different political and cultural backgrounds.
We believe that the state media was a victim of its own mistakes.
The newspapers that arbitrarily dismissed competent journalists
lost many of their readers as well as their influence on political
parties and the opposition. Moreover, the country has lost competent
journalists who found jobs in other international media and worst
of all this has resulted in more social and political divisions.
When state media serves just one segment of the society, this will
encourage others to establish their own media sources. There is
no point in preventing the opposition from expressing its opinion
inside the country when it can easily establish its own newspaper
or satellite channel abroad or take advantage of social networks.
Bahrain needs a large margin of freedom of expression so that
Bahrainis can express their opinions inside their country in accordance
with a modern and unifying press law. Both the Government and the
opposition were badly affected in the past months and only sectarianism
and division are the winners.
We hope that past mistakes get corrected through the reinstatement
of dismissed workers and allowing all opinions to be expressed freely
in order to eliminate sectional discourse.
Moreover, as the BICI suggested in section (1722 /h) ‘to review
convictions and commute sentences of all persons charged with offences
involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence,
or, as the case may be, to drop outstanding charges against them’.
Also, all charges against those arrested or convicted due to exercising
their right of freedom of expression, assembly and establishing
societies according to section (1723/L).
Section (1724) contained a recommendation relating to media incitement
including relaxing censorship, allowing the opposition greater access
to TV, radio and print media and establishing professional standards
in order to avoid incitement of hatred and intolerance.
The King realised the problem of legal restrictions regarding
freedom of expression. He pointed to this in his speech on 23 November
2011 and said ‘we have proposed to amend our laws to provide greater
protection for the fundamental right of freedom of expression’.
This includes the amendment of some sections of the Penal Code which
criminalise some practices of freedom of expression’.
Before the February 2011 crisis, Bahrain was seen as an oasis
of freedom of expression. We need to become more experienced and
turn a new page. People of Bahrain deserve more freedom of expression
and a sincere national media that is far from political and sectional