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Britain burnishes Bahrain's record on press freedom

In an article for FP this week, Freedom House Vice President Arch Puddington laid out the 10 worst countries in the world to be a journalist. The list contained well-known dictatorships such as North Korea, Syria, and Cuba -- and also the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.

"Restrictions on the press have steadily worsened since pro-democracy protests began in 2011," Puddington wrote on Bahrain. "Many domestic journalists have been arrested and detained without warrants and confessions have been extracted through torture."

The British government, however, takes a sunnier view of its longtime ally's attitude toward the media. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the British embassy in Manama published two articles on media freedoms -- one written by the editor-in-chief of a Bahraini government-controlled newspaper, and the other by a political group sympathetic to the ruling monarchy.

Unsurprisingly, both articles find little wrong with the Bahraini government's crackdown on domestic unrest in the past two years -- and find a great deal wrong with Western coverage of their country. "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,'" griped editor Anwar Abdulrahman. "[I]n today's world there is a frequent tendency for the press to brand those in power as 'baddies', and the real wrongdoers as victims."

The other article, written by an advocacy group called "Citizens of Bahrain," directly questioned the value of a free press. "Those of us who have lived through [the recent domestic turmoil] would tend to believe that freedom of the press has limits," the article argued. "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."

During an event in December, Bahrain's crown prince praised Britain's support for Bahrain, saying it "stood head and shoulders above others." If there ever was any doubt, it should now be clear why the kingdom's royals are so pleased with the British embassy. 

 

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

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