Bahrain | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Bahrain

Bahrain

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

72

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

26

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

The constitution allows for the right to press freedom, excluding opinions that undermine the fundamental beliefs of Islam or those that promote discord or sectarianism. In addition, the 2002 Press Law catalogs a variety of press crimes, severely curtailing the range of topics the press is permitted to cover and imposing harsh penalties, including prison sentences, for those found violating the law. Though suspended soon after its promulgation, this law continues to be enforced at the government's discretion. Nonetheless, in recent years the press has grown bolder in its criticism of government policies and other controversial issues. In May, the Chamber of Deputies proposed a draft law to create an Information Council that would increase transparency and access to information. As of December, the draft had not yet been approved.

Internet freedom came under increased pressure in Bahrain in 2005. Despite boasting a liberal telecommunications environment, the Bahraini government does filter some content, monitoring e-mails and blocking access to several political opposition websites. In February, the government arrested Ali Abdul Imam, moderator of the weblog bahrainonline.com, along with two web technicians for disseminating defamatory material through the site's discussion forum. Although Abdul Imam was released after several weeks amid protest, his arrest was quickly followed by a decree from the Ministry of Information requiring all Bahraini website moderators to register with the ministry within three months; the move was decried by human rights advocates as a means to monitor and stifle freedom of expression. The government is not the only threat to press freedom. For example, a Muslim cleric threatened the editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Ayam and led a massive protest after the paper published political cartoons negatively depicting the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, offending many Shiites in Bahrain.

Print media are privately owned, and many local media outlets are able to cover international and economic issues without restriction. At the same time, most journalists usually exercise self-censorship in articles covering sensitive political topics and are often issued government directives on how to report certain stories. The government continues to own and operate almost all domestic radio and television stations in the country, and these outlets largely conform to the government's position. In October, the first private radio station began broadcasting music and entertainment but does not cover news or current affairs. Broadcast media from neighboring countries are available, however, and the number of households with access to satellite channels continues to grow. The Saudi-owned entertainment satellite channel MBC2 has broadcast from Bahrain since 2003, and in 2004 the government lifted a two-year ban on correspondents from the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera.