Sectarian Discourse and the Media during the Crisis

The media can be used as a tool for inciting political and social schism and can become an important tool in calming disagreements, problems and conflicts. According to Bassiouni’s report, the media of both sides, the opposition and the loyalists, participated in increasing the political tensions and the social division. The report also stressed, in its recommendations, the importance of impartiality, objectivity and making space for the opinions of others.

In October 2012, a report was issued by the British Foreign Ministry assessing the situation in Bahrain in which it expresses its concern regarding the use of sectarian discourses by media loyal to both the Government and the Opposition. The report also stated that the British Government will continue urging the authorities to respect the standards of professionalism and ethics. This is in order to avoid extremism and the incitement of hatred and violence.

Undoubtedly, the use of sectarian discourses and incitement has decreased, but has not ended. There are still two separate media outlets, one supports the opposition, relies on the internet, does not connect with other forms of media and refuses to participate on the TV channels and press of the ‘other’. There is also the Government media which is directed at a specific group and cannot penetrate the audience of the opposition or affect its political convictions- especially after the increase in sectarian?divisions and the political clashes.

Bahrain lacks an alternative impartial media which could be able to attract both sides and help them discuss national issues rationally and with consideration for mutual interests. Private media is partial and does not address the masses; hence it is possible to act without limits and accountability. A rational media which presents the views of both sides and avoids radicalism and extremism is very much needed.

Currently, the media is divided with each side trying its best to defame the other and satisfy its own audiences who do not accept rational evaluations of their opponents’ opinions. This kind of partial media leads only to hatred and violence. Both the opposition and the loyalists expose their audiences to one opinion only which renders them intolerant of other opinions. The damage inflicted by biased media on the social fabric is going to need long years to fix. Politicians like to use sectarian rhetori? for mobilization but the final result is catastrophic for the society.

Bahrain needs an impartial media, for the existing outlets have failed to convince the divided public of their impartiality and respect for the various positions. The Government bears the responsibility of reducing polarisation in the media and putting an end to the incitement of hatred.

Firstly: Government media should be regulated in order to reach all citizens and should reflect their concerns. Biased official media leaves the public susceptible to foreign influence.

Secondly: regulating official media is not enough to solve the problem, for the Government should also prevent all incitement of hatred and punish those responsible. It will be difficult for the Government to control the electronic media outlets of the opposition; however it can definitely regulate local media under the law.