Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Media Jihad: If Ya Can't Beat 'Em, Sue 'Em!

As if entirely oblivious to the irony, Bahrain announced on Tuesday that its Information Affairs Authority will take legal action against the UK-based newspaper The Independent "for repeatedly publishing wrong and defamatory information to tarnish its image." The logic seems to be that if you can't convince the world using your own media propaganda machine (most notably BTV) that Bahrain is back to its jolly self, why not try to convince the world that the international media is biased against you? At which point ipso facto Bahrain is back to its old self. See how that works?

The BNA press release quotes an IAA official as saying, "The Independent has deliberately published a series of unrealistic and provocative articles targeting Bahrain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Aww.. isn't that cute to see a little brother defending his big brother?

It continues:
He accused the British daily of orchestrating a defamatory and premeditated media campaign against both countries, failing to abide by professional impartiality and credibility in its one-sided news-coverage and reports. In this regard, he cited particularly leading Independent Middle-East based reporter Robert Fisk.

Mr. Al-Maawda called upon all media to observe accuracy and objectivity and project the true image, adding that all doors remain open to visit Bahrain and gauge the real situation on the ground as the Kingdom is steadily regaining normality and stability.
Indeed, and isn't that what the Bahraini government is all about these days? Respecting "accuracy and objectivity?"

Coinciding with this official complaint against The Independent, moreover, is a less directly state-sponsored attack on international media coverage of Bahrain via such English-language outlets as, for example, the pro-government Bahrain Independent blog/e-zine (coincidental name, that), whose entire coverage these days seems to be dedicated to repudiating foreign newspapers and journalists. As I look right now, there must be a dozen stories of this nature:
  1. "A Response to @NickKristof"
  2. "The Kristof Crusade"
  3. "Kristof! You Let Go!" (Can you tell that the pro-government folks don't like Nick Kristof?)
  4. "Robert Fisk on Bahrain: Integrity for Sale" (Update: This has now reappeared as an "op-ed" by "Scout Finch" in the GDN. I always knew Harper Lee was a Bahraini government supporter.)
  5. "Nick Robertson CNN: Report What's Right"
  6. "AlJazeera, CNN, BBC: 'Angels of Mercy?'"
  7. "Mr. Fisk, Were We Truly 'Invaded' as You Say? Let's See.." (Or Robert Fisk?)
  8. "Martin Samuel Stalls Out On His Moral Superiority Lap: UK Daily Mail"
  9. "Al Wasat and Its Readers"
  10. "Ayat Al Ghermezi – Freedom of speech does not allow freedom of Insult!"
And let's not forget the article we linked last week called "The False Friend: Qatar, Al-Jazeera, and Terrorism."

Apart from the Bahrain Independent, several other English-language sites (to say nothing of Twitter and Facebook) have taken it upon themselves to attempt to refute the "lies" of various Western newspapers, in particular the New York Times. The Brave Bahrain blog outlines the "False Accusations of [the] New York Times." The similar Peace Bahrain blog/e-zine has an entire section dedicated to stories about "Media Lies." And so on.

In fact, as you are likely to have noticed while browsing online coverage of Bahrain (or even this blog) since February, there is an entire cadre of Bahrainis whose job it is to post pro-government comments on articles critical of their government. They even have a name: the Al-Fatih Group for Electronic Jihad. And a logo to match:


And, if you're looking for something to do, they're even looking for volunteers. As their slogan says, "Your Soil is Rich, O Nation"--apparently rich in bored young men who are decent with computers.

Of course, all this is not to say that it is only the pro-government faction in Bahrain that is engaged in the country's ongoing media jihad. A quick Twitter search with the #Bahrain hashtag is enough to dispel that idea. The point, rather, is that in its lawsuit against The Independent the Bahraini government has conveniently forgotten about its own biased media coverage of events since February and indeed well before, a tactic that seems to follow its losing Formula 1 strategy of saying to international observers, "Hey, look over here at this thing. No, wait, but don't look over there at that other thing."

When one does look over there, though, it usually isn't pretty.

Just yesterday, for instance, the Gulf Daily News ran this supposed "letter to the editor" titled "Loyalties 100% with the King," in which a supposed Bahraini Shi'i takes aim at his own community, concluding that those who attended anti-government demonstrations "are worse than the Jews." It begins:
Enraged is how I felt when I read about the WikiLeaks report in the [Gulf Daily News] on Al Wefaq leaders' "secret dealings" [i.e., with the U.S. Embassy].

What else are we going to find out about you? What you have done is more than one can bear! The opposition leaders have made the lives of the respectable Shi'ites miserable with their hidden agendas.

When will America and Britain get it through their thick skulls that the majority of the Shi'ites don't want regime change and their loyalties are 100 per cent with His Majesty King Hamad.

The minority of the Shi'ites that protested were either brainwashed, threatened or, most probably, promised monetary gain by Ali Salman, Mushaima, Nabeel Rajab and the rest of their degrading group.

They talk of Israel, well, let me tell you I never thought I would say this, but you are worse than the Jews. At least they don't betray their government and their people, because they are united. You, Mr Ali, and your clan should watch, observe and learn from their attributes.

After continuing in this vein a bit longer, it concludes: "I urge the people of Bahrain to speak out against these malicious lies that have given Bahrain a bad name abroad. Use whatever means possible and spread the truth until you wipe out the lies."

It seems the Bahraini government at least is taking his advice. Perhaps that leaked document purporting to direct the Information Affairs Authority to pursue a more aggressive foreign media campaign was not a forgery after all.

Update: speaking of media manipulations, this piece in The National discusses the court testimony of Mansur al-Jamri that the false Al-Wasat articles that led to his and the newspaper's demise were submitted by plotters in Saudi Arabia.

Update 2: a friend passed along these funny 4chan-style cartoons that actually relate nicely to the topic here.

The first is in Bahraani (Shi'i) dialect:


- "So did you see the CNN exposé on Bahrain?"
- "Yeah I saw it but the government says CNN is bankrolled by Iran."

The second is in Sunni dialect:


- "Master, we've carried out the plan and took pictures of the weapons inside the ma'tam."
- "Ok, but this time don't humiliate and expose us!"
- "No no, don't worry; this time's we'll say we saw tanks inside the ma'tam too."

7 comments:

  1. Ha ha ha!! This has made me laugh so much - I'm glad someone is finally pointing out some of the holes in their argument so big that you could drive buses through them!

    However, as an addendum to this blog (and also rather comically) have you seen the perfectly dismissive response from The Independent?

    Please have a look here: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=47297&c=1

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  2. Yes, winning a battle with al-Wasat is one thing; a notable UK-based daily another.

    Thanks for the link. Once the Independent has an official reply (so far they've declined to comment officially it seems), I'll add that to the article.

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  3. My only conciliation these days is the high amount of lulz your blog has to offers.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I found something interesting, I looked up the DNS info for BahrainIndependent.com, here are the results:
    http://www.dnsstuff.com/tools/whois/?tool_id=66&token=&toolhandler_redirect=0&ip=www.bahrainindependent.com

    Seems the domain was activated recently, that is to say a month and so after Feb14. The DNS is also located in Hidd.

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  5. Don't forget that Bahrain is paying PR firms Washington based: Qorvis Communications and the Potomac Square Group, along with London’s Bell Pottinger.
    As for the recent propaganda attempt to accuse the opposition of having a US agenda; maybe a look at facts would suffice:
    http://arabunity2011.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/arsenal-of-tyranny-the-western-hand-in-bahrain/

    ReplyDelete
  6. Priceless explaining the New Middle East using Cows. Bahrain included.

    The Cynical Dairy Farmer's Guide to the New Middle East
    How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/15/the_cynical_dairy_farmer_s_guide_to_the_new_middle_east?page=full

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  7. @Anon: great link. I hadn't seen this. I think the Bahrain entry is a bit off, though, right?:

    "Bahrain
    You have three cows: two Shiites and one Sunni. Invite Saudi Arabia to come kill a Shiite cow and import another Sunni cow."

    "*Invite* Saudi Arabia ..."?

    ReplyDelete