By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
MANAMA, Bahrain — On May 18, Bahrain banned Qatari-based Al Jazeera from operating within Bahrain for an indefinite period of time, and barred a broadcast crew from traveling to Bahrain to interview former UN Climate Chief Yvo De Boer. According to the official Bahrain News Agency, the ban was imposed for “breaching the professional media norms and flouting the laws regulating the press and publishing.”
In response to the ban, Al Jazeera claims it was “surprised and puzzeled” by the decision. They also expressed regret that the decision was never officially conveyed to them, and said its editorial line and professional policy in reporting on the news and on issues has not changed. Al Jazeera reiterated that it continues to adhere to its motto, “Equal opportunity for opinions and counter opinions.”
It is still unclear what precipitated this sudden ban, especially given that Al Jazeera does not even have a bureau office in Bahrain. According to Tunisian journalist Habib Toumi, the Information Minister claimed the ban was imposed because Al Jazeera was deliberately attempting to harm Bahrain and that it was demonstrating a bias towards Israel. Claims of bias towards Israel have caused the banning of Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in several Arab countries in the past.
Israel also had a major clash with Al Jazeera last year, imposing sanctions on the broadcaster after Qatar closed the Israeli trade office in opposition to Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by calling the station a hostile entity and to sought to close its offices in Israel. However, Isreal’s High Court of Justice prevented this action, and instead chose chose to limit the network’s activity in Israel and Palestine.
The Bahraini ban may also have been the result of Al Jazeera’s recent programs on poverty and the treatment of Asian laborers, which are purportedly sensitive matters in Bahrain. Other observers believe that it is simply a reflection of persistent tensions between Bahrain and Qatar since the settlement of a dispute over the Hawar Islands in 2001.
In the statement announcing the ban, Bahrain’s Culture and Information Ministry said, “The decision to freeze the activities of the office will be maintained until the ministry and the channel agree on a memorandum of understanding protecting the rights of both sides on the basis of reciprocity in exercising press and media work in both countries.”
According to Gulf Daily News, Bahrain Journalists Association deputy chairman Faisal Abdulla Shaikh said that he believes it is in everyone’s best interests that the dispute be resolved immediately. Watchdog groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have also condemned the decision. Reporters Without Borders stated its concern regarding the ban, and they “urge the culture and information ministry to rescind this decision.”
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Bahrain Blocks Al Jazeera Team – 19 May 2010
Bahrain New Agency – Bahrain-based Al Jazeera Office Temporarily Frozen s Age – 18 May 2010
Gulf Daily News – Call to Resolve Al Jazeera Row – 25 May 2010
GlobalVoices – Bahrain: Why was Al Jazeera’s Office Shut Down? – 19 May 2010
Guardian News – Bahrain Suspends Al-Jazeera Operations and Bars TV Crew – 19 May 2010
Haaretz.com – Bahrain Suspends Al-Jazeera for ‘Flouting Press Laws’ – 19 May 2010