Bahrain...File of Journalistic Pieces that Ended the BBC’s Neutrality
2015-09-09 - 12:12 am
Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): For years, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was an example of media transparency and neutrality to a great extent in its tackling of global issues. Has this time ended? Yes, at least concerning Bahrain. The BBC has admitted to failing to have a balance in covering the events taking place in the Arab world. A report by The Trustees about a year and six months after the eruption of Arab uprisings stated that "the BBC failed to realize the complicated series of events in Bahrain and its sectarian aspects and it did not focus enough on revealing the opinions and motives of the pro-government parties."
Instead of urging its correspondents and editors to be more attentive to understand these complications, the BBC chose the easy way: Acknowledge what the authorities say.
The gulf kingdom's main opposition, including all its different factions, prevented the country from sliding into a whirlpool of violence, by which other countries like Syria, Yemen, Libya and even Egypt were caught, and that is by continuously calling on its supporters to adopt a peaceful approach and chant peaceful slogans. However, when watching the BBC these days, one would be perplexed about whether this TV station is talking about another country or not. For all of its coverage on Bahrain is dominated by the violent incidents that the authorities only report through the government-owned news agency, Bahrain National Agency (BNA).
Search results on BBC's news coverage of Bahrain during only one month (from July 25, 2015 to August 29, 2015) show 8 pieces, including 6 that talk about "explosions", "terrorism" and "killed policemen".
All these pieces are subjectively orientated to go with the Bahraini government's media policy. Among the 8 results, there was only one piece that contained both opposition and pro-government viewpoints. As for the rest of the results, the BBC was satisfied by reiterating the government's narratives of events, which are often quoted from Interior Ministry spokespersons. The BBC didn't even bother to show another point of view, even for the purpose of maintaining a balanced coverage.
An opposition source who has good relations with many BBC employees said that "it chose on several occasions to cover the events based on the Bahraini government's opinion, while BBC correspondents complain time and time again about not being able to interview dissenters in their studio in Bahrain (...) They have always reiterated in front of us that they cannot change the station's policy of not interviewing opposition figures if the authorities refused to allow someone representing them to participate in the interview."
Someone working for the BBC had reported to "Bahrain Mirror" that they "try to be fair with the two sides, but the Bahraini government refused on many occasions to participate if there is an unwelcomed opposition figure being interviewed as well, as was the case of former Information Minister, Samira Rajab."
Answering a question, he further stated: "There is a standstill in Bahrain regardless of the violations (...) Violence is always what attracts media outlets and despite the violence in Bahrain, it is less than the violence taking place in other countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen."
The BBC considered that the events in Bahrain are "complicated" and have "sectarian" aspects. The Trustees report by the BBC world news editor Jon Williams said that "we used to say that it is related to a conflict between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority, but it turned out to be far more complicated than that."
Nonetheless, how did the BBC cover the "complicated" sectarian side of events in Bahrain? It Simply: made it more sectarian than it should be and more than it is on the ground.
"Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society" is a licensed society by the Bahraini authorities under this name exclusively, pursuant to the political societies law of 2005. However, it's name miraculously changed in the BBC coverage to "Al-Wefaq popular front", "Shiite Al-Wefaq Society", or "Shiite opposition Al-Wefaq bloc".
BBC is drowning in shallow news reports on dissent "whose majority is from the Shia" and on a government "led by Sunnis" and on "the economic and political rights of Shiites." It is not well-known to use "shallowness" as a perfect solution to "complicated" issues as was used in the BBC review of its 2011 events coverage.
During 2010 and 2011, the Bahraini authorities systematically obstructed the BBC reporters from entering the country to cover the political events. In September 2014, the Information Affairs Authority threatened to "sue" the station for naming a photographer who was put on trial and tortured for being a "journalist". Until this day, the only statements issued by the BBC are those related to annual sports events such as the Formula 1 tournament.
Instead of admitting to submitting to restrictions by the authorities that prevent it from providing a comprehensive coverage and sending correspondents to investigate the events taking place on the ground, the BBC continues to sink in its reprogramed media performance. Most of the news that the government worked on reporting during the past months on "bomb blasts" leading to the deaths of foreign policemen are not backed with photos that would show the authenticity of the authorities' claims, like any country in the world when witnessing similar incidents. There are also no witnesses and only the testimonies of Interior Ministry spokespersons. Instead of questioning these government spokespersons about this or seeking to listen to the opposing point of view, the BBC decided to completely acknowledge what the Bahraini authorities decided to say about these events, especially by using terms like "terrorism" to describe the events occurring in the country.
About 150 opposition protesters have been killed since 2011 against approximately 15 dead foreign policemen. The BBC has allowed itself to use terms promoted by the Bahraini government such as "terrorism" to describe the incidents that leave policemen killed yet it seems to refrain itself from using these descriptions when it comes to civilian casualties who die as a result of the authorities' violence.
"Bahrain Mirror" managed to get a hold of a file by the Bahrain Centre for Strategic, International & Energy Studies, known simply by "Derasat" and send it to the Editors-In-Chief of the Arabic and English BBC news departments, in an attempt to affect the channel's policy. (Download Here)
The file includes pieces of coverage by local governmental media outlets like GDN, the Saudi "Al-Arabia" channel or western media outlets that cover the events in a way that serves the government propaganda like describing the protests in Bahrain contrary to reality by saying they are "violent" incidents backed by Iran. Instead of questing the content of this file, especially that the aims and identity of the "Derasat" center is no secret, for its members are appointed by royal decrees and is currently headed by a former military official and former Information Minister, the BBC's policy on Bahrain coverage has become influenced by it.
Containing the BBC coverage has become an item on the government's diplomatic media agenda. Bahrain's former ambassador to London, Alice Samaan, managed to schedule a visit with one of the channel's directors, who is a Iraqi christian, to Bahrain. He was taken on a orientated tour to witness the so-called "media liberality" that the country enjoys, such as the "Al-Arab" news channel studios that was supposed to air from Manama. However, when the BBC director went back to London to supervise the trimming of the BBC coverage of Bahrain and put restrictions on interviewing opposers of the regime, one of the "promising" media pillars that he visited during his tour was falling to the ground: Al-Arab news channel was brutally shut down. Al-Arab channel ended for good, yet the BBC is still standing and it is now not the example of transparency and neutrality it used to be over the years.
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