Hiring the press: the Bahraini regime domesticates the media
The Gulf Press Freedom Monitoring Group highlighted the “red line” of Bahrain’s deteriorating freedom of expression in light of government oppression and tyranny.
The group said that the Bahraini government views journalism as a functional field for government work, not as an independent field that has the power to reveal facts, form public opinion, or search for independence.
On the practical track, the Bahraini government does not find any embarrassment in praising what it sees as a political openness that allows all freedoms in front of the freedom of journalistic or media work.
Instead, the government has allotted special prizes for journalists, and it does not skimp on providing generous support to some financially troubled newspapers. And in many cases, it allocates the first three pages of royal court news or official news that comes to editors-in-chief ready and must be published as it is.
This media veneration and the allocation of prizes and gifts are the true face of what might be called the government’s hiring of newspapers and some journalists.
This meaning is confirmed by comparing international assessments that are professionally and highly accurate. According to these standards, press freedoms in Bahrain are considered to be highly restricted.
In 2002, the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, issued a decree regulating the press and media law, containing articles permitting imprisonment and trial of a journalist for expressing their opinion.
At a glance, the 2002 decree laid down the rules for taming journalism and transforming it into a functional sector, especially since the law kept the space for censorship and prosecution in place.
In later years, and in the face of human rights, media and political pressures, the government submitted a draft amendment to some articles of the 2002 decree. The government continued to evade introducing the amendments and withdrawing them from Parliament under the pretext of the amendment, addition and appropriateness.
The intent was to make maximum use of the articles of the 2002 decree to bring about the required taming of the rebellious press, or those emerging and oriented towards building a new journalistic field different from the prevailing journalistic field since the fifties of the last century.
There is no doubt that 2002-2010 was the golden period for forming a new journalistic field. A field capable of establishing relations different from the relations of newspaper owners and their relations with the pillars of the authority or the ruling elite, as in the experience of Al-Wasat newspaper and Al-Waqat newspaper, or even the internal newspapers of some political societies such as Al-Wefaq Society and the Democratic Action Society.
Unfortunately, these newspapers resisted taming and ended up with closure, legal prosecution, or bankruptcy due to the economic embargo.
The rules of taming were very strict in denying the independence of the journalistic field and transforming it into a functional sector that serves the directions and policies of the government.
At the end of 2010, the taming rules were on their way to reaping the fruits, and they were already able to defeat the Al-Time journalist and Al-Mithaq newspaper by imposing the economic blockade.
And to end the issuance of the internal newspapers of the Al-Wefaq and Democratic Action Associations through the mechanism of persecution and demonization so that Al-Wasat newspaper will continue to struggle amid threats, prosecutions, and sometimes an economic blockade.
That was until a decision was taken to directly intervene in dismissing the board of directors, appointing a replacement for it in 2011, and finally finding a way to close it in 2017 permanently.
In this time segment, taming rules have turned into general production rules, and the local press can no longer tweet outside what the government and higher authorities see. Still, it has to increase the government’s positions and work to form a public opinion that supports the positions of the authority, as in the crisis of the Qatari dispute or related local issues, political and social movements.
The process of renting newspapers has become a symbolic process that any observer can discover by analyzing targeted opinion articles that deal with specific topics in almost agreement to put them up and publish them.
It is as if there is a unique symphony that gathers public opinion writers in the remaining four newspapers, which form the basis of the old journalistic field.
On the other hand, the work of local newspapers has become very faint and does not express the issues of the local community or the opinions that the free press is interested in. This was reflected in the newspapers’ coverage of laws that were the subject of political and social controversy.
Reporters Without Borders has previously included Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on a blacklist of leaders who are enemies of press freedom globally.
The organization said that King Hamad, who has ruled Bahrain since March 6, 1999, is characterized by repression and persecution of journalists.
Bahrain ranks 168 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
The Bahraini monarchy had taken a stricter approach towards journalists since the Arab Spring protests erupted in 2011.
According to the organization, journalists and photographers in Bahrain have been subjected to continuous harassment, and there are no longer any Independent media.
Some journalists who fled abroad were also convicted in absentia or stripped of their Bahraini citizenship on direct orders from King Hamad.
Bahraini authorities are currently detaining at least 11 journalists. Dozens were arrested and tortured in the weeks following anti-government protests in 2011.