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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06MANAMA1170 2006-06-28 12:46:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manama
Cable title:  

KING WEIGHS IN ON PRESS FREEDOM, CONVINCES TALK

Tags:   BA KDEM PGOV PHUM PREL BILAT POL REFORM 
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1. (U) Earlier this month, Bahrain Television talk show host
Sawsan Al Shaer quit her popular Friday program "Final Word"
after government censors cut two segments of the June 9
program which were critical of the parliament (reftel). On
June 27, Arabic daily Al Ayam reported that King Hamad
personally called Al Shaer to encourage her to return to the
airwaves. Shaer, who is also an influential newspaper
columnist, told Al Ayam that the King had told her he had
reviewed and had no problems with an unedited version of the
June 9 program, which featured political activist Afaf Al
Jamry, a leader of the leading Shia opposition party Al
Wefaq. In the censored segment, Al Jamry criticized members
of parliament for debating what she considered "unimportant
proposals" while not addressing pressing social issues such
as poverty and unemployment.



2. (C) Shaer told EmbOff that the King was outraged over the
decision to censor her show, saying "We have to face our
problems. If information is blocked, how could I know what
is going on in my country?" Shaer said the King told her he
had instructed Minister of Information Abdul Ghaffar to meet
with Shaer to ask her to accept a proposal to resume as host
of "Final Word." Shaer told the King she would honor his
request to return to the air.



3. (U) On June 28, Al Ayam reported that Bahrain Journalist
Association Chairman Isa Al Shaiji described the King's
initiative as "a victory for the national democratic process
and freedom of expression." Information Minister Abdul
Ghaffar told on-line publication "Elaph" that the decision to
stop the program had been made in his absence and added that
the King had ordered him to resume broadcasting Shaer's show.



4. (C) Comment: Shaer is one of Bahrain's most prominent
and balanced columnists, and is occasionally critical of the
government on a variety of issues. Her talk show is often a
forum for debating hot and controversial topics. The King's
deliberate public entry into the debate to reaffirm his
previously expressed support for a free press is likely to
make journalists breath easier in Bahrain. It may also
embolden critics of government-sponsored efforts to assert
more control and encourage self-censorship of the press, as
reported in reftel.


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