Bahrain is probably the most efficient dictatorship in the world when it comes to using public relations to mask their crimes. This has been clear for a long time. But since the 14th February uprising they have been forced to deal with the rise of social media, whereby activists on the ground can immediately release information of violations to a mass audience.
But this hasn’t stopped the machine from ticking by and it seems this week has seen a new concerted effort to control the narrative and release misinformation. Hardly a surprise, but sadly it seems that many sections of the media are falling for the same old tricks.
Have a glance through our media roundups from the past 2 days and you’ll see some rather strange headlines. The BBC ran a story with the headline “Police under attack in Bahrain”. This probably the worst and most misleading of them all but there are other themes that have been constant throughout this weeks coverage:
- The New York Times – “In Bahrain, worries grow of a violent Sunni/Shiite confrontation”
- Pakistan Today – “Arrests in Bahrain as Shiites protest”
- International Business Times – “Bahrain: Tensions intensify as new protests turn violent”
- Ahram Online – “Arrests in Bahrain as Shiites protest”
The list could go on and on.
All these headlines show a constant theme of two things. 1) Violence 2) Sectarian Divide. Add those together and you have sectarian violence – the narrative that the Government has been so intent on setting as a way of hiding the real struggle which is of course for democracy.
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen do not suffer from this problem, yet in each of those countries there is of course a minority of people who benefit from and therefore want to sustain the status-quo. Bahrain is treated as the exception. We have looked into this a bit more deeply here, but it’s clear that although there are many reasons why Bahrain is reported so badly, a part of it is down to a very strong PR effort.
I found more evidence of a renewed attempt by the Government to shape the reports of the last few days of protest during a phone call with the BBC. On Wednesday I happened to be on the phone to a Producer when news of the third martyr began to trickle through. The story was literally just breaking on Twitter and when I informed the Producer he told me he already knew and had just received the statement from the Ministry of Interior.
This shows just how quick the Government has become in trying to distort the facts. They have clearly picked up on the power of social media and are combatting it with well-timed confusing statements. This then puts media outlets in a very difficult situation, faced with two different stories on the same subject. Of course they should publish the truth but in a busy newsroom, with the pressure for immediate publishing, finding the exact truth can be hard and therefore the Government narrative will always slip in.
But it also seems that the PR companies are up to their old tricks as well as adapting to new methods. Here is a selection of stories from Bahrain News Agency in the past couple of days: