Posted by on May 01, 2012 in Blog

On Saturday, Al Jazeera reported that Bahrain’s foreign minister has urged people on Twitter to vote down Al Jazeera’s documentary “Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark” in an online poll.

The award-winning documentary provides an in-depth look at "[t]he story of the Arab revolution that was abandoned by the Arabs, forsaken by the West and forgotten by the world." It features footage of the protests as well as the government’s heavy-handed response, and sheds light on many of the conflicts still playing out in Bahrain today. Demonstrations have continued with surprising force as anger grows over the continued imprisonment of prominent activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and continuing attacks on physicians, reporters, and other professionals accused of sympathizing with the protestors.

Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa’s tweets, in which he "invite[s] everyone to stand with Bahrain and vote against the harmful Al Jazeera film," are another troubling example of authority figures attempting to influence or pressure reporters into providing them with more favorable coverage, most recently manifested in Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s attempt to sink a “60 Minutes” report on Palestinian Christians suffering under the Israeli occupation. Such attempts are problematic for a number of reasons.

The abuse of power and authority to manipulate information is a dangerous infringement on the freedom of press and the legitimacy of independent reporting. Al Jazeera’s Arabic station has already come under fire from a number of sources for its ostensibly biased coverage of Gulf protests compared to those in Syria or Egypt, but Al Jazeera English has by and large provided far more equitable coverage, and this freedom should be protected against undue influence.

Secondly, such attempts at media manipulation belie legitimate recognition of the abuses and crimes committed by these governments. If the Bahraini government approached reform and democratization with the same gusto it has devoted to media censorship, it may well preclude such reports from being produced in the first place.

Lastly, it should be clear that these attempts are not only ineffective; they are also deeply counterproductive, and at times absurd. Not only does Minister Al Khalifa’s “campaign” do nothing to influence the actual award nomination – a decision already determined by an independent panel – but it also directly feeds into the very narrative that it is trying to dispel, bringing to mind government-sponsored social media campaigns such as “Together to Unmask the Shi’a Traitors” that are featured in the documentary itself.

The uprisings of the past year have demonstrated beyond a doubt that the old ways of government can no longer hold sway. It’s unfortunate to see that many have thus far failed to learn that lesson.

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