Bahrain defends decision to freeze Al Jazeera’s activities as Reporters Without Borders urges Manama to reconsider its move

May 20, 2010
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Bahrain has defended its decision to “freeze the activities” of Al Jazeera television station, saying that it was purely for professional reasons. However, an international media watchdog on Thursday urged Manama to reconsider its stance.

“There are agreements between us and Al Jazeera, and the other party has, maybe unintentionally, flouted them,” Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammad Al Khalifa, the culture and information minister, said. “There will be a Memorandum of Understanding that will be prepared to clear up the circumstances that resulted in the temporary freeze,” she said.

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders said that it was “very concerned” about the ministry’s decision.

“We urge the culture and information ministry to rescind this decision,” the watchdog said.

In a statement published on its website, Al Jazeera said that it was “surprised and puzzled” by Bahrain’s decision to freeze its activities in the island kingdom.

“We were surprised and puzzled by news that Bahrain’s culture and information ministry has decided to temporarily freeze the activities of our bureau in Bahrain,” the pan-Arab network said. “While we deeply regret the decision that had not been officially conveyed to us, we stress that our editorial line and professional policy in covering news and issues whether their locations have not changed or been amended. We remain invariably committed to the motto of equal opportunities for opinion and counter-opinions that we have kept since we were launched,” Al Jazeera said.

The pan-Arab station said that it had received no notification about the ministry’s decision and that it did not have a bureau in Manama.

Bahrain on Tuesday evening said that it had temporarily shut down the office of Al Jazeera television station for “violating professional conventions.””The Ministry of Culture and Information has made the decision to freeze the activities of Al Jazeera Satellite Channel office in Bahrain after the channel violated professional conventions and did not comply with the laws and regulations of the press, printing and publication law,” the ministry said in a brief statement carried by Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

No official statement was issued to explain how Al Jazeera had “violated professional conventions and did not comply with the laws and regulations of the press, printing and publication law.”

However, Kuwaiti daily Al Watan speculated that a recent report by Al Jazeera on poverty in Bahrain was behind the decision, while bloggers suggested it was linked to the escalating tension between the two countries after a 37-year-old Bahraini was wounded when Qatar’s coastguards fired at him for entering Qatari waters and not heeding their warning.

The Bahraini action against Al Jazeera is the second in eight years.

The information minister in May 2002 banned the channel from reporting from Bahrain, saying that the action was taken after the television station deliberately sought to harm Bahrain. The minister said that Al Jazeera was biased towards Israel and against Bahrain.

However, Al Jazeera was allowed back into Bahrain in 2007 and initially named a correspondent, Ghassan Buhsain, its former South Africa bureau chief, before it upgraded its representation to a regional bureau. Relations were reinforced after the culture and information ministry commissioned Al Jazeera training centre to hold workshops to train Bahraini journalists.

Arab countries that barred the pan-Arab station include Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco and Palestine. Al Jazeera was started in 1996 with a loan of QR 500 million ($137 million) and a team of mostly BBC Arabic staff and quickly won the hearts and minds of Arabs through a series of unprecedented bold talk shows and an unfamiliar coverage of Arab and world events.

It achieved international fame after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington when it was the only channel to cover the war in Afghanistan live from its office in Kabul. Al Jazeera English, also headquartered in Doha,  was launched in November 2006.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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