2006-06-21 11:17:00
Embassy Manama
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DE RUEHMK #1116/01 1721117
O 211117Z JUN 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 001116 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/21/2016


Classified by Ambassador William T. Monroe for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).


C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAMA 001116




E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/21/2016


Classified by Ambassador William T. Monroe for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).


1. (C) Several Embassy media contacts have told Emboffs
that the government recently formed two committees designed
to monitor the content of print and broadcast media in
Bahrain. The chairman of the board of the independent daily
Al Wasat received a letter from one of the committees
complaining about specific articles written by three of its
reporters that, according to the letter, contain statements
that "could be viewed as anti-regime." The editors-in-chief
of the six Arabic dailies were called in for a meeting June 6
with chair of the Technical Media Committee (and CEO of the
Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation, BRTC) Shaikh
Khalifa bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, who warned that the
government could pull advertising of publicly owned
corporations from papers publishing anti-regime articles and
commentaries. One contact confirmed the initiative but said
the aim is to improve the professionalism of newspaper
reporting, which often resorts to unfounded attacks.
Columnist and talk-show host Sawsan Al Shaer quit her
television program after segments of a recent program that
were critical of parliament were edited out of the broadcast

2. (C) Summary continued: Minister of Information Abdul
Ghaffar told the Ambassador June 21 there was no government
policy to control the media and that freedom of the press is
an integral part of the King's reform effort. He denied
there was an intention to withhold government-related
advertising from critical newspapers but admitted individual
ministers might choose to steer some advertising away from
certain papers. In our view, these developments indicate
increasing government concern about media content during this
period in the run-up to parliamentary and municipal
elections, expected in November 2006. Increased monitoring
of anti-regime coverage may signal an intent to assert some

measure of government control over the media or, at a
minimum, encourage greater self-censorship. End Summary.

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Government Committees to Monitor Media Content
-------------- -

3. (C) Two editors-in-chief and several other media
contacts reported to APAO that Minister of State for Cabinet
Affairs Shaikh Ahmed Attiyatallah Al Khalifa established two
media watch committees under the auspices of his office.
(See reftel for Shaikh Ahmed's political activities.) The
Higher Media Committee and the Technical Media Committee,
they say, aim to monitor the content of print and broadcast
media in Bahrain with specific focus on anti-government
reporting and commentary. Shaikh Ahmed named himself head of
the Higher Media Committee and designated Shaikh Khalifa bin
Abdulla Al Khalifa, CEO of BRTC to chair the Technical Media
Committee. Close embassy contacts in the Ministry of
Information say they have no knowledge of the formation of
these committees, maintaining that any official instructions
to publications or broadcasters in Bahrain must come from the
Ministry of Information, not from Cabinet Affairs.

"What is the Extent of Press Freedom?"

4. (C) In the name of the Technical Media Committee, Shaikh
Khalifa sent a letter on May 9 to Farooq Al Moayyed, chair of
the Al Wasat newspaper board of directors, taking aim at
commentaries by three of the paper's most influential
columnists, Reem Khalifa, Adel Marzooq, and Qassim Hussain.
As described by Reem Khalifa, the letter cited by title and
date specific pieces they had written which, the letter said,
"carry statements that, reading between the lines, could be
viewed as anti-regime." The letter indicated that these
pieces had crossed the line, asking, "How far does freedom of
the press go with these columnists?" Shaikh Khalifa called
on Al Wasat to come to agreement with the Technical Media
Committee on "what is the ceiling of freedom."

Loss of Advertising Threatened

5. (C) Also acting in his capacity as chair of the
Technical Media Committee, Shaikh Khalifa called a June 6
private meeting of the editors-in-chief of the six Arabic
daily newspapers in Bahrain in which he cautioned the editors
about their editorial policies. As Al Wasat editor-in-chieQMansoor Al Jamry recounted to APAO, Khalifa said statements
in the press that could even indirectly be viewed as
anti-regime, are not acceptable. Publishing articles or
commentaries about subjects that the Committee deems
off-limits would result in the paper losing advertising
placements from goveQurces. Shaikh KhaliQ also
threatened that the Committee would divert the flow of
advertising for state-owned corporations such as Bapco,
Batelco, and Alba away from offending publications.

6. (C) Al Jamry recounted that editors of all publications
except Al Watan, which is rumored to be close to the Royal
Court, vocally objected to the plan in the meeting.
According to Al Jamry, Isa Al Shaiji Editor of the centrist
Al Ayam and President of the Bahrain Journalists Association,
told Shaikh Khalifa, "If we apply your rule we will have
nothing but empty pages in our newspapers." In the
discussion, Ebrahim Beshmi, editor of the new liberal
newspaper Al Waqt, said, "Whoever makes this proposal doesn't
love Bahrain and doesn't love Bahrainis." Al Jamry said he
warned, "Try to do this; the plan will collapse on itself."
In the face of this criticism, Shaikh Khalifa said the
Committee was still in the process of establishing criteria
for when the penalties would be put into effect, and the
matter warranted further discussion with the editors.
However, he intimated the Prime Minister was very interested
in seeing the plan carried out.

No Change in Course, For Now

7. (C) Privately, several editors-in-chief have indicated
they will defy the warning. In a meeting with the
Ambassador, Al Waqt editor Beshmi said, "Any statements or
rules should be discussed with the newspapers and implemented
by the Ministry of Information," and that so far "there have
been no official instructions to newspapers." Isa Al Shaiji,
Editor of Al Ayam, and Younis Ali Faraj, Managing Director of
the Bahrain Tribune, Al Ayam's English-language sister-paper,
echoed these sentiments in a meeting with APAO, saying that
until there were official rules circulated they would
continue along their present course and the publications
"would not be turned into a propaganda tool of the
government." Al Faraj said the Bahrain Tribune advertising
staff had begun monitoring government-related advertising in
several publications to identify variations in placement

8. (U) The most outspoken of the editors, Al Wasat's Al
Jamry, published two editorials that addressed the issue of
press freedom without citing the meeting or moves by Cabinet
Affairs directly. On June 7 he commended the government with
faint praise saying the government "accepts accountability
and oversight (from the Parliament and the press) by not
using its authority to undermine them." He commented, "Good
governance means not having to fear an environment of
transparency." In his June 10 editorial he ties press
freedoms to King Hamad's reforms. He draws an analogy
between the American and Bahraini press, providing examples
of how the press "saved" American society by "allowing" the
US government to correct its mistakes. He calls on Bahraini
government officials to follow the American example and,
"realize that it is in fact in the interest of Bahrain to
support the King in the current movement towards greater
freedom of the press."

An Alternative Interpretation

9. (C) Not all of those in the Bahraini media take such a
dim view of the motives of the Higher and Technical Media
Committees. In a conversation with Pol/Econ Chief, Yousif
Mashaal, Bahraini entrepreneur and occasional columnist for
Al Watan, favorably offered that the focus of the committees
is to provide a much needed review of journalistic
professionalism in Bahrain, not to stifle criticism of the
government. While US papers are attuned to the need for
balance and proper sourcing in their coverage, he said,
Bahraini journalists frequently attack the government and
others with stories that lack facts, logical analysis, or do

not provide a balanced presentation of the issue. The goal
of the Committees, in his view, is to improve journalistic
standards. Additionally, not all of the editors opposed the
plan outlined by Shaikh Khalifa in the June 6 meeting with
editors-in-chief. According to Al Wasat's Al Jamry, Al Watan
editor Mohammed Al Banki remained silent throughout the
meeting. Anwar Abdul Rahman, editor of the Arab nationalist
Akhbar Al Khaleej started the meeting with skeptical
sentiments, but concluded by saying the plan could encourage
newspapers to help their journalists "see the right path" in
their reporting.

TV Talk Host Quits After Program Edited

10. (C) In the only public development in this series of
events, prominent columnist and television talk-show host
Sawsan Al Shaer quit her show "Final Word" after two segments
critical of Parliament were cut from the June 9 program at
the direction of Cabinet Affairs Minister Shaikh Ahmed bin
Attiyatallah. In that show Al Shaer interviewed Afaf Al
Jamry, a political activist, member of leading Shia
opposition society Al Wefaq, and cousin of Al Wasat Editor
Mansoor Al Jamry. In one of the segments that was cut, a
critical Al Jamry says that Members of Parliament were
wasting time debating unimportant proposals such as allowing
members of the Bahrain Defense Force to grow their beards
when pressing issues such as unemployment, the lack of
affordable housing, education reform, and poverty needed to
be addressed. As a columnist for Al Watan, Al Shaer
addressed what she deemed the "censorship" of her TV program
in a piece intended for publication on June 14. However, Al
Watan refused to publish it. Al Shaer's resignation and her
views of the editing of her program were picked up as a news
item in Al Ayam, Al Wasat, and Al Waqt. In the articles, Al
Shaer recounts that an unnamed BRTC censor told her after the
show's airing that Bahrain TV is a government station and
cannot allow content when it is not approved by the
government. Al Shaer is quoted, "There are government
officials that have not been able to adjust to the era of
reforms within a constitutional state." She called on BRTC
to comply with the spirit of King Hamad's political reforms.

-------------- --------------
Ambassador Discusses Issue with Information Minister
-------------- --------------

11. (C) In a June 21 meeting with Minister of Information
Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar, the Ambassador raised the reported
meeting with editors-in-chief and Al Shaer's resignation,
expressing his concern that these developments might indicate
government interest in asserting some measure of control over
the media. The Ambassador noted that one of the strengths of
Bahrain's reform effort has been the diverse and increasingly
lively print media, and hoped this development would not be

12. (C) Abdul Ghaffar replied that there was no government
policy to control the press. King Hamad has made clear that
freedom of the press is an integral part of Bahrain's reform
effort. He said he was not in Bahrain when the incident with
Al Shaer occurred, saying he was surprised she had quit
abruptly without talking to him or BRTC CEO Shaikh Khalifa
about her concerns. He noted that Al Shaer's guest had
criticized Parliament, not the government, and conjectured
that the censor who cut segments of the program personally
believed that Bahrainis should be proud of Parliament and
that the guest's comments went too far. The four-minute cut
happened, but it was not government policy. Abdul Ghaffar
questioned Al Shaer's motives, indicating she should have
talked with him about her concerns before quitting. He said
the show had not been doing well and had not attracted a lot
of commercial advertising, and wondered if Al Shaer had done
this to generate publicity and give her newspaper column a

No Plan to Withhold Advertising

13. (C) Turning to the print media, Abdul Ghaffar said he
did not think it was the intention of the government to
withhold advertising from newspapers. In fact, he stated,
the government had placed ads in Bahraini papers recently
following the announcement of an agreement to develop a
Bahrain-Qatar causeway, as a way to support the papers.
However, it was possible, he admitted, that individual

ministers might decide to direct advertising for entities
under their authority away from publications that attack them.

14. (C) Echoing Mashaal's words, Abdul Ghaffar said there
was an important distinction between positive (constructive)
and negative criticism. He said he is criticized all the
time, more than any other minister. When criticizing the
government, the journalist should not give false information
and should not attack a minister just because the journalist
does not like him/her. The criticism should be done in a
balanced way.


15. (C) The formation of the monitoring committees is a
worrying indication that the government may attempt to assert
some control over the media during this sensitive period
leading up to parliamentary and municipal elections, expected
in November 2006. That said, the press is willing to take on
a very broad range of issues, including those related to
government performance and the royal family, with very few
red lines. While the increased government monitoring of
media content could encourage greater self-censorship in
editorials and commentaries, the press will continue to cover
the public comments of parliamentarians, who regularly
criticize government policies and individual ministers.
These blasts out of Parliament will likely intensify after
the elections, which is expected to result in the presence of
more opposition MPs in the lower chamber. An unfortunate
consequence of greater government monitoring of media content
is that efforts to promote increased editorial independence
at Bahrain Radio and Television, an initiative supported by
the MEPI-funded CHUM project, will not be activated anytime

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