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British Embassy Bahrain marks the World Press Freedom Day

The British Embassy asked Bahraini journalists and commentators to write a brief article outlining their views on the freedom of expression in Bahrain.

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Bahraini Newspapers

Freedom is not politics

By Anwar Abdulrahman

Anwar Abdulrahman

Never before in mankind’s history has the word ‘freedom’ been so corrupted, so incorrectly and criminally used.

These days, if a person is murdered and a suspect arrested, his or her victim is often overlooked because of misplaced concern for the killer’s rights. What a blinkered, bizarre state of affairs! In fact the western press has virtually merchandised the word ‘freedom’, turning it into almost a blackmailing tool.

During the last two years Bahrain has suffered hugely damaging media-inspired attacks on its image and integrity – without checks being made as to their veracity – whether news or comment.

So-called human rights organisations, which unfortunately are largely administered by ex-ideologists and even terrorists, today propagate their own version of the word ‘freedom’, solely to take it away from others. They dismiss any notion that the minute someone’s freedom intrudes on that of another person, it becomes an act of violation. For absolute freedom is absolute chaos. Like any other state of being, it must be accountable. But in today’s world there is a frequent tendency for the press to brand those in power as ‘baddies’, and the real wrongdoers as victims.

Look what happened in Britain only a year ago, when thugs rampaged for almost a week, laying siege to central London. This happened in the oldest democracy and was dealt with firmly. Prime Minister David Cameron publicly declared: “We must not listen to these phony human rights statements”. And he promised the nation that within 72 hours it would be rid of the scourge. He ended it using maximum aggressive policing in every major UK city. Anarchists and yobs were even kicked out of their council houses. They didn’t deserve such comfortable and subsidised facilities. Twenty-four-hour courts were also set up to speed justice and jail the rioters.

From my desk as Editor-in-Chief, I believe that freedom should be based on humanness, righteousness and debate, not anarchy and terror. For in this era of open skies and the Internet, to misuse freedom is easy. Any story can be fabricated, any person or government defamed at the touch of a computer screen.

Another thought…as much as beasts cannot be left to roam freely, so in human society the feral element’s freedom should be under control.

Respect for freedom should really start from an early age. Otherwise our society will only breed ranks of the undisciplined – staining the values of freedom.

Freedom of thought, thinking and writing, should all derive their essence from graceful wisdom, not from the dogma of hooligans.

Today’s western civilisation emanated almost 2,600 years ago from Athens, and has been inherited by many countries because of its virtue in every field of science and culture. Such a great school of mankind cannot perpetuate or be protected if law and order fails to control individuals’ base behaviour.

Political freedom, the subject of the day, has been largely misunderstood, and even hijacked by the most unworthy, non-productive members of society. In today’s world we require freedom of economy, education, health services, housing, job opportunities and equal rights. Rights linked to performance of duties.

In short, no nation can maintain its freedom with an empty stomach.

Today every advanced country functions on one prime principle – to create a decent living for its population. But to achieve that, freedom must be based on truth, not on sensational reporting pedalled by much of the international Press.

Their cynicism is so entrenched that even if Lord Jesus were to come back to us today, and in front of western media representatives, walk on water, their reports would most likely read “ yes, he walked on the water, but only because he doesn’t know how to swim”.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the British Embassy, Foreign & Commonwealth Office or British government.

Freedom of the Press

By Citizens of Bahrain

Citizens of Bahrain

Freedom of press is a basic necessity in every developing society. No-one wants to live in a place where journalists are questioned for expressing their views.

But does freedom of press mean that journalists have the right to cause divisions, fabricate stories and be biased in the service of personal political agendas? – does this serve the public or inform people? Certainly Not!

During the past two years Bahrain has gone through a phase during which misleading information has ripped our society apart through sectarian tension.

Writers took the opportunity of the unrest to promote their political views. Some fabricated stories which supported the opposition; others decided to turn the table and depict a whole segment of the society as traitors – such was the shameful role played by state television and other loyalist media outlets.

By using the term freedom of expression in the wrong context, both sides played a dangerous role in promoting sectarianism and dividing society.

Those of us who have lived through such an experience would tend to believe that freedom of the press has limits: When it comes to fabricating stories and using terminologies that polarize society, freedom of press should be looked into as a more complex matter than we may first realize.

In a country like Bahrain, even the concept of freedom of press is unfortunately abused and people lack awareness of the level of responsibility that comes with complete freedom of press.

In developed Western nations “absolute” freedom of expression is curbed by strict libel laws: If you try and use such a freedom to write lies about a public figure you may get fined hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Our message to Bahraini writers, journalists and editors on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day: Every news outlet may have its own set of rules and guidelines or agenda, yet there must be a certain level of journalistic integrity in covering stories.

When freedom of the press is abused to spread hatred and incite violence, then such a freedom is dangerously undermined in the eyes of the public – this serves no-one.

Providing a broad range of views is the only way to serve society - All voices need to be heard. Our writers are only addressing their own supporters while disregarding the fact that they need to even draw the attention of others who oppose them.

The media fails when it fails to provide credible information, when it misleads the youth and when it doesn’t attempt to engage with different segments of the society to bring people together following a period of sectarian tensions.

It is unfortunate but true that freedom of press only came to existence around a decade ago in Bahrain after King Hamad came to power and enshrined these freedoms in the new constitution – the National Action Charter. Hence, people do not understand the responsibility that comes with this freedom.

It is time to practice this freedom in a suitable manner and not to abuse it. Freedom of the press is certainly a right, but it must be used with care and wisdom. When used such a manner it can be influential in developing and enlightening society, making this society more resilient both in times of trouble and times of peace.

In conclusion, we say this: Express your views openly and honestly; but put your country before your personal interests.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the British Embassy, Foreign & Commonwealth Office or British government.

Published 2 May 2013