"The right to know: Premier vows Press freedom" reads the frontpage headline of today's GDN. The first paragraph of the article reads:
Freedom of speech is sacrosanct and will not be touched, the Premier told leading Bahrain journalists yesterday. Press freedom is the country's first line of defence, he said, vowing to make citizens fully aware of "every movement". (Continued)
Now you would expect a proper news article about Press freedom in Bahrain to present the opinions of both the government and those who diagree with the government. But as is all too common in the local Press and media, only the government propaganda is presented in this article. Whether it's editorial self-censorship or direct orders from the government, the Press obviously feels pressure from government.
This is why I (and most other bloggers, I suspect) am so much against the government's website registration plan. The Internet is the last refuge for those of us who want to read about and discuss issues concerning Bahrain in a free unrestricted environment. If all Bahraini website owners were to register with the government, then they would face the same pressures as our local Press. And inevitably, the level of discussion online about political issues would be dumbed down to that of our newspapers. I don't want that to happen.
On a related note, there is a short mention of this topic in the widely distributed Foreign Policy magazine.
Update (05-Apr-05): The UAE-based Gulf News (not to be confused with Bahrain's GDN) published some excellent op-eds and reports about Press Freedom in the UAE and the Gulf to mark World Press Freedom Day. Be sure to read the Editor-in-Chief's candid op-ed: Self-censorship virus plagues media. It seems that our friends in the UAE are genuinely moving in the right direction. The UAE leadership also marked the day with speeches about the issue, not unlike how our Prime Minister spoke about the issue (as shown in the article at the top). The crucial difference is that UAE leaders recognize that problems exist, and seem to want to genuinely overcome them. In his address, the Dubai's Crown Prince said:
It is no longer possible to sell illusions, to justify failure with manufactured excuses or to re-label defeats as victories. Technology has increased people's access to information and has forced the Arab world with all its states, governments and societies to face the realities and challenges of the new age.
And among the things said by the UAE's Minister of Information was:
There is a need to change the way that our media, and the people working within it, work. We need an environment that encourages innovative thinking and dialogue, even if that means that governments are embarrassed. The media should be able to question governments, and to criticise their policies if there is something to be criticised.
These guys are talking about changing the situation, whereas the Bahraini leadership talks about the prevailing status quo as though it is absolutely perfect. Bahrain could learn a thing or two from its brethren.