Bahrain Moves to Restrict Digital Journalism
By Jude Ali
The Rio Olympics are the perfect example of the dwindling power of traditional media and the growing demand for digital journalism. While NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke’s “nightmare” of a 20 percent television ratings drop came true, digital viewership increased by 263 percent compared to 2012. Live streaming is becoming more and more popular not only to watch major sports games but also major news events.
Last month some of the top news stories were streamed in real time through social media, including the attempted coup in Turkey. However, the Bahraini authorities are trying to fend off the global trend by imposing laws prohibiting local newspapers from using live streaming and restricting any video content from news outlets from exceeding two minutes.
What does this mean for Bahraini journalists? That they are required to stay in the old age of journalism and watch the size of their audience shrink every day? What does this mean for the Bahrain government? Keeping its public uninformed about its ongoing human rights violations to silence any voices of dissent?
With the increased government control and monopolization of print media in Bahrain—only one independent political newspaper exists and it was shut down twice in the last five years—people have started turning to other sources of information online. The authorities responded by blocking many websites and online forums that provide any kind of coverage of human rights violations or allow people to express critical views of the government.
Due to the restricted print media and restricted access to political news websites, people rely more and more on news circulated in underground Whatsapp groups. Again the government responded with more restrictions, making it risky to be an admin in a Whatsapp group, as you can face charges and spend up to two years in prison for content that you haven’t even posted. This ongoing censorship cost the former Minister of Information Affairs and Minister of Parliament Affairs his job for a joke shared in a Whatsapp group.
Some Bahrainis with social media accounts critical of the government are increasingly self-censoring in fear of being prosecuted. The government has successfully silenced those who voiced critical views in the past—now most of these users indirectly express their views with quotes from different sources.
Bahrain's restrictions on free speech are clearly increasing, fueling more grievances and anger. Washington cannot afford more tension in the region and should publicly speak out against this censorship.