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“It’s a snafu, honest!”

BAHRAINI authorities yesterday claimed to have blocked a number of websites and blogs by mistake.

The Information Affairs Authority (IAA) claimed a technical error resulted in blocking of several sites, but said in a statement it was fixing the problem.

[…]

She said her site www.sillybahrainigirl.blogspot.com was blocked on Tuesday after being incorrectly categorised as pornographic, but she was told during a meeting at the IAA yesterday that it would soon be accessible.

GDN

Oh yes, we believe that. What’s worse I wonder, their ignorance of how the Internet filters work after spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of Dinars on them, leaving these systems to be configured and run remotely by a foreign power, or this blatant convoluted lie they’ve thrown into the press this morning quoted within the same article above that:

“The increasing number of blogs and websites indicates freedom of expression in the country,” it said.

Huh? There are almost no bloggers left! They’ve either migrated to Facebook or Twitter or evaluated the situation far too tenuous, fickle and dangerous to continue to expose their personal thoughts especially after the apprehension and alleged torture of our dear friend Ali Abdulemam?

If they did really respect freedom of expression, Ali Abdulemam would have never been apprehended, and the thousands of sites blocked at their whimsical behest would have been unblocked. So spare us the violins, we’ve heard this broken record over and over again.

But then wait… while the Information Authority (neé Ministry of Disinformation) is “doing us a favour” and unblocking Amira’s blog, their next door neighbour (by coincidence of course!) the information intelligence agency, which is imaginatively named the Central Informatics Organisation / CIO – has come out in a press conference reported in the very same paper today assuring us that it spending BD800,000 in creating a “single login architecture” for every citizen wishing to access the various government websites and services, will be presumably secure enough too, and hopefully not require too much remote tweaking by the Singaporean vendors.

BD800,000 – that’s 2.1 million greenbacks to the uninitiated – will solve a problem which has never existed! Talk about fixing something that ain’t broke.

I guess as the new new National Authentication Framework – aka, NAF (seriously? did they even look up this unfortunate acronym up?)’s going to:

“The whole purpose of this project is to unify e-services by providing a single authentication profile for users,” Cabinet Affairs Minister Shaikh Ahmed bin Ateyatala Al Khalifa told a Press conference at the Mšvenpick Hotel yesterday.

I thought we had the much vaulted CPR number for that, didn’t we? Or is that old hat now and requires some re-engineering, maybe put in yet another uberspychip to make us feel even more secure? What’s wrong with us using our CPR numbers to access those so called services? Didn’t they spend a humengous amount with yet another foreign firm to bring out these new chipped CPR cards which were supposedly going to be the be-all and end-all for personal transactional processing, even – listen to this – using the card to log in to services using the very same chip introduced?

Whatever.

We’ll probably see these schemes mentioned in next year’s Audit Report… along with yet another brand new unneeded scheme dreamt up by the CIO (or a good salesman maybe) to the tune of hundreds of thousands of Dinars.

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Ministry of Information no more?

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According to this, it looks like the good lady has had her way.

The Ministry of Information & Culture neé Ministry of Information has now transformed into the Ministry of Culture with the information part devolved into an authority under the leadership of Shaikh Fawaz Al-Khalifa, the ex president of GOYS. Shaikh Fawaz will also inherit the main departments of the erstwhile MoI: Radio & TV, Artistic affairs (?), Foreign Press, the Bahrain News Agency and Press & Publications subdivided under new sections headed by assigned director generals. Although not named yet, if these DGs are the old undersecretaries (who effectively ran the ministry) then we can safely say that no real change will be forthcoming. Sites will remain to be blocked and the freedom of information will continue to be at their whims.

But, let’s wait a few weeks to find out how the chips will fall in that erstwhile ministry.

Another thing which will be closely watched by those inside and outside BRTC; however, is what will happen to those very highly paid Lebanese “experts” who were inducted in droves by Shaikha Mai Al-Khalifa at the complete chagrin of everyone there. Will they remain in their vaulted towers to continue to dictate how “the locals” run their affairs by forcing in obsolete and expensive methods and incomprehensible technologies at odds with the broadcasting world norms, or will they, like her excellency be given the boot?

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Bahrain shuts down Al-Jazeera

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Bahrain on Tuesday evening said that it had temporarily shut down the office of Al Jazeera television station for “violating professional conventions.” “The Ministry of Culture and Information has made the decision to freeze the activities of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel office in Bahrain after the channel violated professional conventions and did not comply with the laws and regulations of the press, printing and publication law,” the ministry said in a brief statement carried by Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

Habib Toumi

According to the indefatigable Amira‘s Facebook entry, the reason was:

because they aired interviews with university graduates earning less than BD200 a month – and spoke about poverty.

Brilliant.

Is it fair to say then that Bahrain’s government strategy to deal with all its problems is to firmly bury its head in the sand? With the various and consistent curbs applied to the media in all its forms it certainly suggests this “strategic” direction.

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The Ministry of Information is listening

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Bahrain's Press & Publications department at the Ministry of Information blocking websitesWell, it’s more than listening. They can actually read and also visit this blog from time to time. I am honoured and well chuffed. Extremely. And this particular page has become their official home page!

How would I know? Well because I do. They have used some of the information there to issue yet another block order, number 2008/197 signed by the failed parliamentary contender and current head of their Press and Publications department just yesterday to block the alternate URLs to bahrainonline.org and re-inforced (he thinks!) the block on wattaninet.net by demanding the specific block on a subdirectory of that site: wattaninet.net/forum! Shows that not everyone who can read actually is educated enough to understand what they’re doing, doesn’t it?! 😈

So the official blocked websites in Bahrain, thanks to the valiant efforts of the Misery of Thought Control and THE Protector of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Honour remain the same, but the blocked URLs leading to those sites have increased by 2 (the /forum doesn’t count, go read more about the Internet and its related technologies to find out why!)

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Shaking up BRTC

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The employees at the TV station are threatening a strike tomorrow and if that doesn’t get their demands, they’re threatening an en mass resignation. They’re not happy with the new BRTC CEO Ahmed Najem.

I suggest to our good friends at that illustrious institutions to forgo the first threat in their due process and just go directly to the second. I am sure that I can get another friend to come in with a pickup truck and transport the newly destitute to their various abodes, free of charge.

But destitute they aren’t. A little birdie tells me that quite a number of them became fat cats; suckling at that milch cow with abandon.

For instance, some of the production personnel have reportedly sprouted well-equipped home studios using pirated software on cheap enough computers where they habitually receive conveniently farmed out jobs in order for the poor souls to supplement their unsubstantial stipend.

Ahmed Najim, BRTC\'s new CEO
Ahmed Najim, BRTC's new CEO
They’ve apparently become quite innovative in surmounting the unusually high cost of acquisition and playback production equipment by utilising the station’s own; at the same time demonstrating their sheer technological advancement by simply shooting material then digitising it using the station’s own editing systems directly into external hard disks which they then take home to edit the program. When the time comes to lay their edited material back out to tape again, they simply bring back that external disk and output it through the TV’s expensive tape machines and Bob’s your uncle!

Other less technologically aware – but equally industrious – individuals won’t be crowded out at the trough. Those apparently simply farm out whole jobs to judiciously selected production and post-production houses for which their efforts would be amply rewarded.

So it doesn’t surprise me one iota to read the following in this morning’s Alwaqt newspaper:

علمت ”الوقت” أن عدداً من موظفي هيئة الإذاعة والتلفزيون يعتزمون تنظيم اعتصام صباح غد الاثنين وذلك احتجاجاً على قرارات الرئيس التنفيذي للهيئة أحمد نجم، وقال مصدر فضل عدم الكشف عن اسمه ”إن الاعتصام قائم. إلا إذا تم فتح قنوات للحوار، حيث يأتي هذا الاعتصام كحق طبيعي نمارسه للتعبير عن مواقفنا”.
وأضاف المصدر ”هناك امتعاض من الأسلوب الذي نعامل به، التلفزيون والإذاعة من صنع هؤلاء الموظفين الذين أمضوا حياتهم داخل أروقة الهيئة، وفي حال عدم استجابة المسؤولــين لنا، سنضطــر آسفين إلى تقديم استقالات جماعية في القريب العاجل”.

Alwaqt Newspaper

Who wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to keep a personal milch cow amilkin’?

Well done Ahmed Najem (and the minister who selected you for the job). Go forth and conquer. What a wonderful feeling it is to have a clean site unhindered by dead wood and avaricious dead-beats whose only reason to be in that edifice in the first place was to have known – or been related to – the right person!

It is high time that both Bahrain’s radio and television stations regain their senses and output something that we can both be proud of and want to watch of our own volition.

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Your Uncle is Deaf

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Or as we say in Bahrain: 3mmek asmakh, an epithet normally reserved for situations where no matter how much advice one gives, even very reasonable and much needed advice, the receiver of such words of wisdom is completely and utterly deaf to those words. Such is the situation with the Ministry of Information, or at least maybe specific parts of it who still think that they should be affiliated to the Police forces or the CID instead. Maybe they have to come to the realisation that as most countries in the world have done away with such an edifice, they are padding their nest and preparing themselves for different future pay-masters.

Here’s the proof:

Hamad Al-Mannai, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Information, accuses webmasters who did not register their websites as unpatriotic and are uncivilised
Bahraini MoI undersecretary calls unregistered webmasters unpatriotic and uncivil
INFORMATION MINISTRYS UNDER-SECRETARY HAMAD AL MANNAI SAID THE INCREASE OF REGISTERED WEBSITES WAS STRONG CIVILISED SIGN OF THE AWARENESS OF THOSE IN CHARGE OF THESE WEBSITES OF THE IMPORTANCE OF ADHERING TO THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIPS DIRECTIVES ON THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION WITHOUT HARMING UNITY.
INFORMATION UNDER SECRETARY SAYS REGISTRATION OF WEBSITES ON RISE – bna

Apart from leaving you to notice the obvious spelling mistakes in the nugget above which is taken verbatim from the Bahrain News Agency’s website, another organ that employs 78 people to churn out releases like the good stuff above, a fact that in itself raises a multitude of questions (the Ministry might want to explore replacing those 78 with 5 kindergarten students who might have a better grasp on both reality and language skills, thus saving the country its sanity, reputation and its coffers a few bushels of dinars) I resent the fact that the honourable undersecretary of (dis)information is labeling all of those who choose not to register their websites as uncivilized, unpatriotic and disloyal, given that the respected gentleman should know – owing to his position – that website registration is completely voluntary. Unless, of course this is yet another reversal of government position on the freedoms of expression that we most certainly lack and now continue to restrain us from our rights especially by his emphasis of the tripartite committee put in place to subjugate any intellectual dissent by threats of imprisonment and shutting down of websites and other forms of expression under the ubiquitous raised flag of their own special brand of social mores and patriotism, forgetting that this is a wholly unconstitutional pursuit in their haste to trip over each other to please their own masters not hesitating for an instant that their positions dictates the delivery of good advice which is sometimes counter to the instructions they are given.

Let me go back again to this idiotic press release, if you would allow me to, by highlighting the fact that the respected undersecretary does not offer any substantiation whatsoever in the way of numbers or even comparisons of those who charged through his exalted offices begging to register their websites. Not that they actually have a published list on the internet that shows such registrations of course, so we should really be excused for thinking that they might well be pulling hares out of their collective empty hats to impress – well, not us, certainly – but some gullible idiot who actually believes their tripe.

WHY are they so hung up on registering websites? And WHY do they time and again come back to the same lost cause with pedantic abandon is simply beyond me. Is someone somewhere actually winding them up like toys every time the stupid bunny stops his racket because they just like the noise? Or is this a calculated step to continue to keep the country busy with these mundane and trivial pursuits rather than concentrate on actual human and institutional development so that we too can at least attempt to catch up with those who have barged into futures of their own making as evidenced by the huge numbers of growing middle class families while ours atrophy to the point of disappearance?

Well, Mr. Al-Mannai, with all due respect of course, THIS website will NEVER register with your ministry, even if your wishes become law. I would rather abandon it altogether than acquiesce to such an idiotic, unproductive and unwarranted request which is completely devoid of even a smidgen of added value.

And yes, thank you very much, my patriotism and civility do not need nor require your approbation or affirmation.

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Sites to be blocked, and become famous

Ban something and suddenly everyone wants to know why so they would do whatever is possible to get through that ban. It’s human nature. Just like rubber-necking a car crash. So why would anyone in their right mind think that the answer to correct a wrong is simply just to block the source is beyond me. It’s like that perennial image of burying one’s head in the sand and pretending that the situation simply does not exist.

This method simply does not work on the Internet, as the network itself is built with the central premise of resilience and redundancy. It was designed originally even to withstand a nuclear attack; therefore, imagining that a simple URL, keyword or IP block would suffice in eradicating the underlying problem is hardly going to work. Alternate routes will immediately spring up and people will tread those routes with alacrity to at least see what the big deal is. The downside of course is that these blocked sites audiences will probably be distilled into their central support units who might very well use the imposed semi-isolation to propagate even more hate and spread even more sectarian poison without the possibility of people engaging them and ameliorating their fervour. They will flourish in their own vacuum. Hence, the block will simply aid rather than hinder.

Blocking Internet sites is simply not the answer. And doing so administratively without judicial intervention goes against the human rights and press freedom codes the government has ascribed to. At best, these blocks will aid in Bahrain’s further descent in the international freedom indexes, at the expense of sending an impotent political message that this is the only way the government has at its disposal.

Although I don’t agree with a lot of the content of the three sites to be blocked, I don’t believe that blocking them is the correct method which should be used to deter them from spreading sectarian thoughts and hatred.

The sites to be blocked are Awaal.net, Shams Albahrain and Mamlakat Albahrain Forums.

ed: wrong url given originally for Shams Albahrain, this has now been corrected. Apologies.

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Correcting a wrong

Remember that debacle where the Arab world agreed to “protect our traditional values” by curtailing freedoms of expression especially that of news television channels? You know, the news channels who normally criticise established regimes, specifically Aljazaeera and to some extent Alarabia?

That was in February earlier this year, and only Lebanon objected to such a scheme while Qatar expressed some reservations. The rest of the crowd just nodded along and carried on in their slumber. But as you might expect, there were some criticisms against such a move from all corners of the world. It seems that pressure has borne fruit; in today’s paper, I was really happy to read this:

جددت البحرين وقطر والإمارات تحفظهم خلال اجتماع وزراء الإعلام العرب اليوم (الخميس) على وثيقة البث الفضائي بدعوى إن بنودها تفرض قيودا على حرية التعبير في العالم العربي وعلى عمل الفضائيات.

وذكرت تقارير صحافية إن اجتماع وزراء الإعلام العرب الذي عقد في العاصمة المصرية القاهرة اليوم فشل بالخروج بآلية محددة لتنفيذ وثيقة تنظيم البث الفضائي والإذاعي التي أقروها قبل نحو 4 شهور وسط خلافات عربية حول بنودها.

وكان وزراء الإعلام العرب قد وافقوا باستثناء قطر في فبراير/ شباط الماضي على وثيقة تنظيم البث الفضائي في المنطقة العربية والتي جوبهت بحملة احتجاجات شديدة من قبل منظمات صحفية عربية ودولية.

وقال مشاركون ان مصر والجزائر ابديتا استغرابهما من التحفظات القطرية والإماراتية وان الاجتماع لم ينجح في النهاية بالخروج بآلية محددة لتنفيذ الوثيقة.

واكتفى وزراء الإعلام العرب في ختام اجتماعهم بالدعوى الى إعداد قاموس لصياغة المصطلحات التي يتم تداولها في وسائل الإعلام العربية.

Alwasat – 20 June, ’08

This report now states that in their latest meeting, more “reservations” were expressed by the Emirates and Bahrain! Man oh man. Yes, you read it right: “Bahrain” expressed reservations, meaning that, well, we’re not having it any more. This happened amongst different expressions of bafflement by Algeria and Egypt (Saudi was probably absent?).

So to save some face before they bury such an inept concept, they agreed on the creation of a lexicon in which unified definitions of words and concepts is to be adopted by broadcasters. Well, I guess most (but not all) news editors will file this in their rubbish bins on receipt, but at least it makes someone happy that they have saved face. What I would have preferred is just giving the proponents of such an idiotic “code” the bird and leaving the room at the very start, but that’s just being rude and politics and norms should be respected I guess.

Well done Bahrain. I fully expect – that should the new minister carries on like this – our Press Freedom Index for 2008 will be appreciably better. Well done again.

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SHUT THEM UP!

You know you’ve lost the argument if all you have left to “defend” your cause is to demand that the other party be shut up, and use a desperately disparate parliament to encode that demand into law. What is stranger still, is that the party demanding the reneging on the constitutional right to free speech is a national daily newspaper!

Alwatan has entertained us with their brand of “investigative journalism” last week by publishing daily articles and interviews demanding the closure of the awaal.net news website, charging it with the dissemination of sectarian hatred and that it is the direct tool of the Ulama Council which is trying to destabilise the country by fostering hatred against the king and the ruling family.

I really couldn’t be bothered with either Alwatan nor Awaal.net and their own agendas. To me, they have the equal right to voice their opinions as long as they do not breech the sacred rules of not propagating hatred and condoning violence. They can both write whatever articles they like, discuss whatever event that crosses their sights and mount as much investigations as their editors feel comfortable with. If I or anyone else has a problem with any of their published content, then the avenues are certainly available to expose the errors and take them to task. So fight words with words, rather than words with swords or even mediocre and ill-thought of calls to legislation to bar the voicing of one’s opponents’ opinions.

I am very concerned by the campaign mounted by Alwatan and its sympathisers which is urging the Ministry of Information to take action against Awaal.net and “all illegal and unregistered websites in Bahrain”, calling for their closure and to penalise their webmasters. They have gone even further by demanding that parliament question the Minister of Information and enact legislation which would severely curtail the freedom of expression in the electronic media; actions which go against the excellent strides the new Minister of Information has taken to redress the continuous descent of Bahrain’s ranking in various international metrics, especially those concerned with freedoms of expression and freedoms of the press, and conveniently forgetting Bahrain’s position on the Human Rights Council and the various agreements it has become part of. Not to mention their trespass on basic human decency.

In Alwatan’s entourage of support for its despicable position are a bevy of MPs, all well known not only for their sectarian leanings, but also for their complete animosity to almost any kind of freedom enjoyed by Bahrainis. It is very evident that the ideology they subscribe to and their intellect cannot stand any form of criticism. They see criticism as a vendetta against them personally rather than their tenuous positions and tedious actions they adopt while representing the whole of Bahrain.

Bahrain continues to go through very rough turbulence, especially of late. We are faced with daily scandals and disasters, all of which of our own making, yet, our parliamentarians and some of our papers are not only ignoring these critical circumstances, but actually go out of their way to condone injustice and foment sectarian thinking rather than studiously find ways to ameliorate differences and concentrate on future development at this critical time in which almost every country in the region has surpassed us by bounds and leaps. So rather than them taking a principled stand against sectarian appointments in the parliamentary secretariat, we find them hoarsely barking in defence of those awry appointments, rather than immediately call for an independent board on enquiry and penalise those who chose to use the parliament as their own private farm to do with as they like! Instead of them standing for and with freedoms of expression, we find them calling for its complete demise and go even further by demanding the entrenchment of Big Brotherly attitudes.

Shame on Alwatan and those parliamentarians who sow the seeds of strife in this country. Shame on the Bahraini people for not taking a stand against them and demanding their resignation, and shame on all those who brought them into the sacred halls of parliament and now sit back and watch as our country is systematically being destroyed, one brick at a time.

Links: Alwatan’s campaign against awaal.net, pdf pages in Arabic: 8 June, ’08 · 9 June, ’08 · 10 June, ’08 · 11 June, ’08 · 13 June, ’08
Alwatan Newspaper · Awaal.net
To contact Alwatan, click here, to contact Awaal.net, click here

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