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Media coverage of elections marred by self-censorship, political pressure, exclusion of voices and blocking of Internet, finds World Press Freedom Day report

(BCHR/IFEX) - The following is an abridged 3 May 2008 BCHR press release:

On World Press Freedom Day: A Report by a Regional Group Calls for Reforming the Media in Bahrain; The BCHR Calls for Discussing Report Findings and Implementing Its Recommendations

The results of monitoring the media coverage of the last parliamentary elections in Bahrain reflected a number of pitfalls in terms of freedom of the media in fair coverage of elections. It aroused doubts about the fairness and credibility of radio and TV stations as well as the eight daily newspapers. Despite the relative margin of liberty in Bahrain in comparison with some neighboring countries, the report concludes that the media played a role in hindering democracy instead of supporting it and that there is a lot to do in order to reform this state of affairs. (. . . )

Summary of the results:

1. Candidates and political associations were prevented from accessing radio and television programs under the pretext of neutrality toward competitors. While, on the other hand, these stations were used during the campaign period for mobilization and propaganda in favor of the ruling elite and the government, which would influence the voter in favor of candidates close to the government. Programs were broadcast to undermine members of the opposition who did not have an opportunity to express their opinions.

2. On the main radio channels, the quantitative results in the report show that electoral mobilization and government news occupied 93% of broadcasting time compared to other topics, namely electoral information and competition. While on the main TV channel, electoral mobilization and government news occupied 71% of broadcasting time compared to other topics. Through qualitative results, the report shows that electoral mobilization is overwhelmingly used as political propaganda for the King and the royal family, which places indirect influence on the elections by strengthening the loyal candidates and weakening the opposition.

3. In regard to foreign press, the authorities adopted a clever yet manipulative approach, by selecting and generously hosting 200 representatives of foreign media, especially from Arab countries, and providing them with facilities and tours, which is reflected in their bias in covering the elections.

4. The authorities prevented access to Internet sites which are considered as dissident sites.

5. Although all eight daily newspapers are privately owned and declare themselves as independent and politically independent, in law and practice, they are subject to government influence and pressure. That is reflected in self-censorship and wide coverage of government news and achievements. ( . . . )

10. In conclusion, the media in Bahrain has failed to play an impartial role in 2006 elections of the House of Representatives. When radio and TV channels lack independence and refuse to take a campaigning role, and when the national newspapers lack impartiality and professionalism, and when candidates lack effective means to reach voters, that all reflects negatively on participation, the voter's right to access to information, and their ability to make the right choice, which would put under question the credibility of the entire democratic process. (. . . )

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