Long-Distance Biased Reports Distort Bahrain’s Reality

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One wonders if sensationalism is the name of the game in this age of cut-throat competition among news agencies and hunger for more and more TRP among rival TV channels.

How else could one explain the false, bogus and inaccurate reports about the current situation in Bahrain put out by certain sections of the media. And without the correspondents even being present in the country! At best this could be termed as long-distance muck-raking.

Let us first take the example of an Associated Press report filed on June 3. If you know, this was three days day after the lifting of the State of National Safety in Bahrain and the first Friday in the wake of that. Fridays are generally believed to be the days when volatile things can happen while the prayer congregations, heady in the wake of inflammatory sermons, are in the process of dispersing.

For the record, some ‘leaders’ living out of Bahrain had already persuaded their troublemaker-minions in the Kingdom to circulate maps over-explaining with red arrows from which direction demonstrators would again try to storm the area formerly known as Pearl Roundabout but now a traffic crossing.

These maps had gone to news agencies as well.

And the news agencies were keen to get some story out of these promises of a second revolt. The result? Not to be outdone by rival agencies the Associated Press correspondent rose to the occasion sitting a thousand miles away in Dubai and decided to file an earth-shaking report and surprise both her readers and her bosses. In the event she surprised everybody on both sides of the fence.

“Bahraini police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters marching toward the landmark Pearl Square in the country’s capital Friday, two days after authorities lifted emergency rule,” her report opened.

“Despite tight security across Bahrain and police reinforcements at checkpoints around the capital, hundreds of opposition supporters from the mostly Shiite populated villages around Manama took their grievances to the streets again and set off to reclaim Pearl Square.”

And who was her informant since she was a thousand miles away in Dubai? None other than Nabeel Rajab, the self-styled president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, a one-man operation derecognised in Bahrain long ago and a lonely voice trying to win legitimacy on the back of misleading statements.

The least the Associated Press correspondent could have done was to obtain from Rajab, who himself obviously stayed away from the grand march, the phone numbers of half a dozen participants in the so-called march and contacted them to get a first-hand, eyewitness account. That would have exposed Rajab’s lies. Because the thing is, on the afternoon of June 3 nothing happened anywhere near the roundabout.

The other culprit report came out of Al Jazeera TV based in Qatar, an outlet which is always busy trying to show Bahrain in a poor light. It repeated the Associated Press information and also went on to add, quoting “opposition activists”, that a woman, Zainab Altajer, had died following exposure to tear gas. It is a different matter that her son came out to openly state that she had died of heart problems and her death had nothing to do with any kind of exposure to teargas.

The question to ask is, what is the agenda of these news outlets? Why do they distort and misrepresent information or circulate misinformation? For one thing, the King of Bahrain, while declaring the end of the State of National Safety, had in the same breath announced the date [July 1] for unconditional talks with all parties.

On June 1 the Minister of Interior also received representatives of all but one political society [which chose to stay away] implying the process will go ahead. And if political society representatives are meeting a government minister on a given day, why should their constituents come out and protest on the streets two days later? Perhaps the purveyors of fictitious news reports could enlighten us on that.

For the record other than these two outlets [apart from the usual noise-makers in Tehran], no agency filed any report of troubles on that day at this scale in Bahrain. One might ask, are these agencies doing it at the behest of those who do not want the Formula One to take place in Bahrain this year, a move cleared by the F1 body? Or is it at the behest of those who do not want Bahrain’s political issues resolved even though both parties might be willing to sit on the negotiating table? Or at the behest of those who do not want all the moves to revive the Kingdom’s economy to succeed? They better answer that.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.