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The Typically Arab Politicians’ Way of Resolving Differences of Opinion

IAA dreaming?

Here’s a bit of news which does not add up:

Bahrain has been picked to host the headquarters for Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s new international Arabic news network despite months of unrest, according to the tiny Gulf kingdom’s media oversight authority.

Alwaleed’s channel, dubbed Alarab, will be based in the Bahraini capital Manama’s new Media City office complex, Sheik Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, a member of the Bahraini royal family and head of the country’s Information Affairs Authority, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The channel aims to focus “on the important shifts taking place across the Arab world, with an emphasis on freedom of speech and freedom of press,” Alwaleed said in September.[source]

The first huge question mark is that the IAA and the Ministry of Information have been a complete and utter failure at retaining such huge investments. They have chased out every single television channel which either have or wanted to establish itself in Bahrain. They have been instrumental in stifling freedoms of speech and have elevated that activity to an art form to be envied in the third world and beyond. None of the newspapers are free here and don’t get me started on the huge number of websites which have been blocked by their direct action, or if it’s not them – to give them their fair due – then it’s another arm of the government which has ordered the websites’ ban mostly through extra-judicial means. Even a service which can directly elevate the level of education in this country has been banned; try accessing the Google translation engine for instance. The end result is that this government has proven itself to be extremely hostile to any free speech.

So how can a supposed erudite, intelligent, iconic, uber-businessman who has been known to pick the right horse at the right time plonck potentially more than half a billion dollars to get such a news channel started? And how is he going to entrust the administration of his Rotana media empire to be run from a country which is and continuously has been at war with free speech?

Ok, leave that, how will the unfettered turbaned and bearded lot take to the parties, concerts and festivals which MUST be part of the deal in marketing Rotana and its products? Parliament – in its present form – and the nouvelles politiques a’la Almahmood an co will go ape-shit, and that’s putting it mildly.

Will the government actually allow such news and entertainment channels to exist and be free? I suspect that the news entity will be so curtailed that it will ultimately make the present Bahrain TV shine, and the black screens of censorship will make the other channels in the bouquet completely and utterly unwatchable. In fact, they will make test-bar screens more interesting.

The only reason I could fathom for Al-Waleed entrusting his millions to Bahrain without having iron-clad constitutional guarantees for hands-off non-molestation is that he’s in the game of losing money… and although a gambler he may be, stupid he most definitely is not.

So what gives?

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LOST, re-enacted in 1 minute

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I stopped watching LOST after the second season. I just couldn’t handle all the bullshit plots they were throwing at me and I couldn’t be bothered subscribing to that “intelligent” crap that its followers gave it like:

oh it’s an intelligent series, not like the usual like tv episodes. you have to like watch it all to understand what’s like going on. you can’t just dip like in and out like whenever you want!

So I stopped. I started re-watching Benny Hill again. That to me had a better plot-line than series 3 – 6.

Well, with the internet memes going on about it, I thought’s I’d at least try to see what the last episode was like, and if it’s like the last episode of the Sopranos, I was determined to have a baseball club handy (I need an excuse to get that luscious 3D TV in any case!) So some good soul was good enough to summarise the whole series, yes all 6 seasons including the last episode in a skit done by cats!

Don’t believe me? Here you go:

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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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Honeymoon over at the MoI?

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Heh, the brand new and I must say very photogenically handsome minister seems to be on a miss-step – I don’t want to say that he’s just following on from whence others have trod before him, that would be too strong, I hope – but with statements as those which appeared in today’s GDN give rise to a worrisome future, if the gentleman’s words are taken at face value:

Any show that may harm the image of Bahraini women’s are banned from being screened by the Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation, Information Minister Jehad Bukamal said yesterday.

TV drama writers have been strongly instructed not to write anything that may give a negative impression of Bahraini women, the minister told Shura Council members at their weekly session.

What’s wrong with the above statements, you might wonder? I’ll tell you what, they assume that Bahraini women are inviolate goddesses not prone to error. While some might approach that naive assessment, I would venture to say that the vast majority of them are simply human beings with wants, needs and some might even have a nastier streak in them than a lot of their opposite gender. So asinine blanket statements like the above actually do more damage to the country as a whole rather than women alone. And of course, there is the image of that huge big pair of scissors that the honourable gentlemen gave the impression of eradicating when he first took office.

So, the chips are down, and the Misery of Information is carrying on as it were, an out of date and an out of control juggernaut going on momentum and hoping to be pointing in the right direction. Pre-censoring everything, banning material, ordering writers to write what the ministry wants, rather than reflect and treat real and felt social ills.

Perfect. But there’s more:

“Even the shows we buy from abroad are carefully studied before they are purchased to ensure that they are inline with the country’s policies, which respect women and their outstanding role in society,” said Mr Bukamal.

He’s also suffering from an acute sense of amnesia it seems. He has forgotten that in this area alone there are over 300 satellite channels all clamouring for eyes and only a very small percentage of them are semi-succeeding, but only if success is measured not in monetary terms but in that of viewership figures, a number that his illustrious television station is in dire need of and barely enjoys numbers in the teens.

Where is he going to buy his programs from, one wonders, and which distribution company in their right mind is going to entertain such a draconian measure as to make programs available to his channel which are “inline with the country’s policies“? Which country is he talking about? Oh, Bahrain. The population of which is still an unknown figure and all of whom hardly if ever turn on Bahrain TV even by accident.

“We have a lot of local shows to highlight the pioneering role of women and discuss women and family issues. Women events, programmes and activities are also being covered and special programmes on them are being broadcast.”

“There are new programmes directed towards women and we hope to have them launched soon.

Oooh goody! But see the preceding paragraph please. If this is your idea of running a television station after a few months at the job, I’m afraid to burst your bubble and tell (not advise) you to put the brakes on immediately, put plans in place for you to be the very last Minister of Information this country will have, and spin off BRTC into the private sector. THAT should be your manifesto for the job you have.

But, if you do intend to continue on the path your predecessors have dithered on, I suggest at the very least look into spinning off the production departments and outsource it to the private sector so they can provide quality programs for you to choose from and pay fairly for. (Full disclosure: I own a production company, but I am not interested in doing any production for Bahrain TV under the current circumstances.)

“Women employees in particular are being sent abroad to courses and specialised workshops, as we try to improve programmes dealing with women.” He said that 384 employees have been sent to workshops last year, out of them 165 were female.

“Thirty-seven employees took part in courses and workshops abroad, out of which 17 were women. Those workshops and courses not just deal with women, but with ways of improving programmes for society.”

Huh? Isn’t this a clear case of discrimination? The numbers might not suggest it so I’ll let it pass. What I will bring up; however, is the huge number of staff that TV station has! Come on! FOUR HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE people have been sent on courses for a TV station that only has one and a half channels? For god’s sake! This guy is squandering the country’s resources too! If they have sent 421 souls on courses, how many more were left behind to run the station? I bet it is the same figure again if not more!

On a recent visit to NBC Studios in New York at the Rockefeller Plaza, we went through several floors and visited iconic studio sets like Saturday Night Live and Conan O’Brian, I can bet they don’t even have a quarter the staff our hugely productive Bahrain TV has, yet, we all know the kind of programming and news NBC churns out to world-wide acclaim. So it’s not a numbers game.

So come on man, gird up the loins and fire 90% of the staff (keep the janitors, they do an honest job) and base the can decision on quality rather than gender. Shake that place up good and make it ready to present to the private sector to take over. You can even make the government more money by spinning of the radio separate from the television offerings, and I bet that most investors won’t even want to get your archaic equipment, they will just be interested in the frequencies and licenses!

So cut out the marketing stuff and do what’s right. You were an elected MP, then an assigned one, and now you are a minister and before all of that you were (are?) a businessman. There is no one better positioned to make real change into that flaccid organ.

So get on with it. Please.

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“The Protection of Traditional Values”

I cringe whenever I hear or read those words. Why? Because they are always used as a pretext to restrict an intrinsic freedom or used as a justification for trouncing all over a basic human right.

It is as if “Traditions” are sacrosanct, enshrined and set in gold. They – we are led to believe – are the very essence of perfection.

This is not so of course, just like any other society on Earth, we do have traditions which are shameful, ones that we should diligently work at eradicating. But if we are faced with this oft-used mantra of “protection of our traditional values”, we might as well forget about the rest of the world and be content in our own little cocoon. Our isolation, in this case, is completely voluntary and well deserved.

We all know of course that protection of traditions or values are farthest from their minds. What they want to protect Рnot to put too fine a point on it Рare their well exposed derri̬res!

Witness the latest “protection” visited upon us by the two old stalwarts of human rights and personal freedoms and democracy: Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They have successfully towed 21 other countries – this valuable rock amongst them – to put their thumb-prints on a document restricting broadcasting – sorry, sorry, it’s not restriction, but really at attempt at

organization and putting rules and restrictions to increase the investment opportunities in these channels and ascending by the presented informational message.

Ah yes, of course. The minister of disinformation of Egypt continues:

Al-Fiqi said that there is a state of randomization in the satellite channels which don’t differentiate from the random housing in some countries. The examples of such randomization are many, such as transforming the channel possession without rules and its deviation from the registered form, besides the programs of jugglery and nakedness and so on.

Other than suddenly and categorically understanding what actually ails our own beloved BNA, I have no idea what they guy is going on about. Click the link and have some comic relief, maybe you’ll make head or tails of that erudite piece of journalism. Oh, and his wit and effervescent personality, of course.

The document being non-binding is moot of cousre. Yet, only Lebanon specifically opposed it, while Qatar is “studying” it. The others, well, they follow the piper.

Remembering all of these organisational efforts which we have signed into, you can imagine the tears of mirth pouring down my face while reading Al-Waqt this morning. You see, our illustrious Shura Council are discussing legislation for the establishment of private radio and television stations! [translate]

Now, with “organising” measures which

allows authorities to withdraw permits from satellite channels deemed to have offended Arab leaders or national or religious symbols.

Who in their right mind is going to establish anything in these countries, let alone enter into the highly unpredictable and treacherous world of visual and aural media?

Ah well, let me just be on record in thanking Ebrahim Bashmi & Co. in the Shura Council on their valiant efforts over the last 6 years in trying to codify modern and fair press and media laws which will elevate and protect the basic and most important human right, the freedom of expression, and humbly tell them to not bother. The high blood pressure they and other honest persons endure, is really just not worth it. Leave it to the Internet to give them real heart-burn!

What they want; really, is nothing more than the traditional noddy dog backed by the various excellent musical themes of Monty Python on their screens.

Let them have it, and a wise company would take its money elsewhere.

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On Al-Jazeera!

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I’ve been interviewed and filmed by Al-Jazeera’s Hashim Ahelbarra (the English channel) about a couple of weeks ago, the segment is airing in their news program throughout the day today Nov 8th, ’07. If you’re interested in watching, you can do so online (click here or click “watch now” on their front page).

Hope you like it.

update: If the schedule doesn’t change, it looks like they’re rebroadcasting it at around 25 past the hour every hour.

update 2: Al-Jazeera has just posted the interview on their website, and by the magic of YouTube, here it is too:

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DRINK! GIRLS! FECK! and a pet brick weekend

Father Jack loves his pet brick

Yes my friends, my weekend is ALL planned and it is going to be re-watching ALL the Father Ted episodes for the.. uh, I lost count.. anyway.. I will watch them all again!

So I give you the effervescent Father Jack with his pet brick.

and of course this classic line (of many):

Mrs Doyle: Now… (pouring Jack a cup of tea) … and what do you say to a cup?
Father Jack: Feck off, cup!

and the following Father Ted techno song 😆

[audio:DrinkFeckGirlsFatherTedTechnoDance.mp3]

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CNN: Poverty in Bahrain

Lulu once again has an excellent opinion which is well worth reading:

Hala Gorani, presenter of “Inside the Middle East,” apparently was in Bahrain, interviewing Shi’a poor villagers, Nabeel Rajab, and a couple of government Ministers. The program started with an assertion that Bahrain, despite being one of the world’s richest countries in terms of per capita GDP, has a “hidden population.” Political and economic issues in Bahrain were reduced to ” long-standing tensions” between the ” poor Shi’a majority” and the “ruling Sunni elite.” And that’s that.

update: Anwar Abdulrahman, that doyen of democracy and righteousness has also spoken about this subject in his column in today’s GDN:

This must reflect the extreme naivety of producer Hala Qorani, who has allowed herself and her film crew to be lured into exaggerated and unrepresentative situations.

I wonder what they hoped to achieve by such blatantly untrue, unfair and biased reporting. Bahrain is presently buzzing on the cusp of an economic boom, which must have been obvious to these cameramen and ‘journalists’ as they toured various parts of the country.

Ironically also, such irresponsible reportage has been released when the United Nations has bestowed high honour on our Prime Minister for his key role in human development, placing the urban poor at the very centre of Bahrain’s modernisation strategy.

can you smell the roses yet?

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