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Bahraini government at fault for polarisation of media

(CPJ/IFEX) - The Bahraini press, like almost everything else in the island country, is sharply divided. If the government would take steps to strengthen press freedom instead of restricting access, then much of this divide could be bridged.

In both style and substance, the schism in the press is vast. Take for instance how newspapers covered last month's anniversary of the February 14, 2011, pro-democracy protests. In one narrative, rioters and terrorists ran rampant across the country attacking schools and martyring a policeman. In another narrative, tens of peaceful rallies commemorated the second anniversary of the revolution, as opposition and human rights groups called for investigations into the martyrdom of a child by shotgun fire.

Deep as this divide may be, it is not inevitable. Actors on all sides have deepened the schism by pushing their political agendas in the echo chambers of partisan media outlets. But the greatest culprit is the Bahraini government, which has sought to push its own narrative through a potent mix of intimidation, public relations campaigns, and reprisal against critical outlets.

The government has frequently emphasized the importance of freedom of expression and the need for reconciliation. Last year, King Hamad asserted in a speech that "the key to reform is through press freedom."

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