Going South

6 May, '06

If you’re already wet, would being sprayed make you even wetter? What if you jumped in the pool when you’re already wet, would that make you wetter? Of course not. So what if Bahrain once again went south in its ranking in the Press Freedom Index for 2006? Okay, it’s just a few ranking postions: from 155 in 2004 to 156 in 2005 and 158 in 2006… the only bright side of this that I can think of is that we have reached bottom, and the only way is up, or get covered in silt and wait a few million years to make something worthwhile of our existence!

Let’s see what the full 2005 report says about us (pdf) and revel in its praise:

BAHRAIN
STATUS: NOT FREE

LEGAL ENVIRONMENT: 24
POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT: 26
ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT: 22
TOTAL SCORE: 72

The constitution allows for the right to press freedom, excluding opinions that undermine the fundamental beliefs of Islam or those that promote discord or sectarianism. This right is restricted further in practice. The 2002 Press Law catalogs a variety of press crimes, severely curtailing the range of topics the press is permitted to cover. Though suspended
soon after promulgation, the law continues to be enforced at the government’s discretion. Nonetheless, the press has grown bolder in its criticism of government policies and other controversial issues in recent years. In May, the Chamber of Deputies proposed a draft law to create an Information Council that would increase transparency and access to information. As of December, the draft had not been approved.

Internet freedom came under increased pressure in Bahrain in 2005. Despite boasting a liberal telecom environment, the Bahraini government does filter some content, monitoring emails and blocking access to several political opposition websites, In February the government arrested the moderator of the web log www.bahrainonline.com, Ali Abdul Imam, along with two web technicians for disseminating defamatory material through the site’s discussion forum. Released after several weeks amid protest, Abdul Imam’s arrest was quickly followed by a decree by the Ministry of Information requiring all Bahraini website moderators to register with the ministry within three months, a move decried by human rights advocates as a means to monitor and stifle freedom of expression on the web. The government is not the only threat to press freedom. For example, a Muslim cleric threatened the editor-in-chief of the daily Al Ayam and led a massive protest after the paper published political cartoons depicting the Ayatollah Khamenei and offending many Shi’ites in Bahrain.

Print media are privately owned, but they usually exercise self-censorship in articles covering sensitive topics and are often issued government ‘directives’ on how to report certain stories. The government continues to own and operate almost all radio and television stations in the country, and these outlets largely conform to the government position. In October, the first private radio station began broadcasting music and entertainment, but does not cover news or current affairs. Broadcast media from neighboring countries are available, however, and the number of households with access to satellite channels continues to grow. Saudi-owned entertainment satellite channel MBC2 has broadcast from Bahrain since 2003. In 2004, the government lifted a two-year ban on correspondents from the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Freedom House :: MENA 2006 Freedom of the Press report :: pdf

In a recent press release, the same organisation said this about this whole region, and I cannot agree with its conclusion more:

Despite overall improvements in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa over the last several years, the region continues to rank the lowest for press freedoms in the world, according to a major study released today by Freedom House. However, there are a number of countries that are close to an upgrade from Not Free to Partly Free status, if a few key reforms are implemented.

Generally, media in the region remain constrained by extremely restrictive legal environments in most countries. Most problematic to media freedom are the laws criminalizing libel and defamation and prohibiting any insult to monarchs and other rulers, as well as emergency legislation that remains in place which hampers the ability of journalists to write freely.
Freedom House :: 27 Apr ’06

I hope our exalted MPs, especially the bearded ones are listening.

This is what you (the MPs) take with you to your graves.. you had a real chance in your lives at least to attempt to make a difference, and you continue to squander it.

Well done Bahrain. I would like, on this very auspicious occasion, to congratulate both the Ministry of Information and the Bahraini Parliament for these reports and new rankings.

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Comments (10)

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  1. Khalid says:

    I find it really funny how the gov. just give a blind eye to this and every other week, we hear about how great freedom of press is in Bahrain. I suppose we just invented our own freedom of speech scale and decided to go with that, suits some very well.

  2. Ingrid says:

    What is the lowest number, did I miss reading that? Perhaps economical incentives will prove to be the thing that will boost freedom or hey, a little bit more freedom. (it’s all relative right?)
    It is such a shame that there seems to be a trend towards that type of conservatism that it leads to going backwards , well, in your case, going south!
    You think that with the multitude of examples that when you try to control people it will (eventually) have the opposite (pardon the pun) effect, some people will start clue-ing in. Perhaps they need to be reminded of monarchies with democracy (as in the Netherlands).. people can be as critical as they want, but the Queen will always be, the queen. Plus, letting people vent is a good way to prevent things from bottling up and spilling over..
    I’m just saying
    Ingrid

  3. mahmood says:

    That is the perennial question Ingrid. We say that our constitutional monarchy is as those ancient constitutional monarchies, and want the world to believe us; yet, we get glaring situations such as these that blow our cover.

    Do not criticise the king,
    Do not criticise the royal family,
    Do not criticise Islam,
    Do not criticise the prophet,
    Do not criticise the prophet’s wives,
    Do not criticise the prophet’s companions,
    Do not criticise the prophet’s household,
    Do not criticise religions of the book,
    Do not criticise their prophets,
    etc…

    All of these “Don’t” don’t leave much of a chance to criticise anything as no matter what criticism you mouth, will invariably be interpreted in a way that would impinge on one of the above sacrosanct rules.

    The issue is that someone, some “advisor”, who has put these rules in place thinks that using 14th century methodologies for silencing critics would work now. And more importantly he thinks that by placing these rules and regulations and policing them would elongate the permiance of what they are supposed to protect; thus, demonstrating the abject disconnect that supposedly “erudite thinker” has with reality.

    The end result is that WE suffer, and the royal family in general are looked at with very bad light for allowing such a mismanagement to occur. Them too, failing to realise that very little is required to redress the balance.

    My advice to His Majesty the King (I know, he probably doesn’t read this blog!) is to re-hire the PR firm that allowed him to be vociferously and happily carried on the shoulders of the most oppressed communities in the island, and have them spontaneously throw petals in his path. That PR firm knew what they were doing, the current ones screwed up a long time ago and should be immediately replaced.

    More important than PR of course, and a fact that will create a tsunami of approval, is to do the right thing: amend the constitution, distribute the wealth, ensure independent judiciary and freedoms of expression. Once these things occur, we need not worry about rankings going south any longer, we will punch through to the stratosphere, deservedly.

  4. Ingrid says:

    Gotcha!
    And yes, I totally agree with you, it takes very little indeed to redress the situation…
    Ingrid

  5. ByronB says:

    You can say what you like about the government in Singapore – of course, if you do, they’ll sue the pants off you!
    Singapore elections
    Every regime seems to have its own unique way of maintaining the statusd quo.

  6. tooners says:

    distribute the wealth???? he he…. that’s good.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Bahrain sounds like a wonderful place.

  8. mahmood says:

    IT IS!

    But like everywhere else in the world, we do have problems which we hope that by highlighting them, they will be solved.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well at least you’ve got me thinking. I am studying a little Bahraini history on the Internet.

  10. Jinny says:

    Is there any connection with that big ol’ bridge over to Saudia Arabia?

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