Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
- Despite constitutional protections guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the press, the government continued to restrict the rights of the media.
- Bahrain’s 2002 Press Law outlines a range of offenses that can result in up to five years’ imprisonment, such as publishing material that criticizes Islam or the king, inciting actions that undermine state security, or advocating a change in government. Other offenses include publishing articles that might affect the dinar’s value, negative press regarding a head of state who maintains diplomatic relations with Bahrain, and offensive remarks about representatives of foreign countries regarding acts in connection with their positions. There is no law guaranteeing freedom of information.
- In April 2009, the Constitutional Court struck down a portion of the press law that held publishers responsible for the content of the items they publish.
- The government continues to exert pressure on journalists who write controversial articles. In September 2009, Al-Wasat reporter Maryam al-Shrooqi was convicted on insult charges for a 2008 article alleging religious discrimination in government hiring practices. After publishing a series of articles in February detailing the legal bias against women in family courts, Al-Waqt columnist Lamees Dhaif was charged with insulting the judiciary and summoned before the court. The charges were suspended at year’s end.
- Government censorship is widespread. The Ministry of Culture and Information (MOCI) may legally censor and prevent the distribution of local and foreign publications, close newspapers through court proceedings, ban books and films, block websites, and prosecute individuals. The MOCI temporarily banned the Arabic daily Akhbar al-Khaleej and shut down its website without a court order in June 2009 after the paper published an article criticizing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian leadership’s response to mass protests that followed the disputed presidential election that month.
- Self-censorship is common, stemming largely from a fear of legal battles over slander or false reporting. In December, employees of the newspaper Al-Bilaad were instructed to cease criticism of specific government bodies and any projects governed by the king or crown prince.
- Print media in Bahrain are all privately owned. Some of the six daily newspapers—four in Arabic and two in English—are critical of the government. While there are no state-owned papers, the MOCI maintains significant control over the private publications. Journalist Ali Saleh was suspended from Al-Bilaad by the royal court in November 2009 after he wrote an article calling for democratic reform.
- The government maintains a monopoly on all broadcast media, and private operating licenses are not awarded despite continued interest from media owners. Broadcast news coverage is not independent of the state, and coverage of the opposition on official programming is less than proportionate. However, there has been some room for free expression on television call-in shows. Radio and television broadcasts are generally received without interference, and approximately 99 percent of households have access to satellite stations. Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, based in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, respectively, remain Bahraini citizens’ main sources of news.
- Some 82 percent of Bahrain’s population had regular access to the internet in 2009, and unlike in previous years, e-mail use was reportedly not monitored. However, there is concern over the government’s growing restrictions on and interference with the internet. All websites are required to register with the MOCI, and religious and political content is heavily censored. Website administrators are responsible for all content posted on their websites and are subject to the same libel laws as print journalists. Online news sources are generally viewed as unreliable and highly politicized. Over 1,000 websites were filtered in 2009 under the official guise of protecting citizens from pornography and other offensive material. However, the OpenNet Initiative found that many of the censored sites were actually political blogs and online news sources.