Censorship scandal over Bahrain documentary from CNN
Bad suspicion against CNN: The US news channel does not broadcast a critical documentary about the repression in the Gulf state of Bahrain – out of consideration for the regime?
Did you see any mistakes?
In March 2011 the Arab Spring was in full swing. After Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, people also took to the streets in Bahrain. They demanded a new government and a new constitution. The kingdom reacted with violence, shooting at civilians. People lost their lives, opposition members were arrested. After Saudi Arabia hurried to the neighboring country with tanks to help, the resistance was broken.
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In the same month, the US channel CNN began producing a documentary on the significance of Internet technologies and social media for democracy activists in the Middle East. Among other things, correspondent Amber Lyon spent eight days in Bahrain, supported by the USA, documenting the brutality with which the regime in Manama took action against the demonstrators. But the report was never broadcast on CNN International (CNNi). Despite repeated requests from employees, the station refused to show the elaborately produced documentary internationally.
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The Guardian has now linked the refusal to money that the Bahraini government allegedly channelled to the TV station. The payments would undermine the news channel’s journalistic independence, writes the British daily.
13 minutes of the film shown in the US on 19 June 2011 are about Bahrain. One sees in it how sharply demonstrators are shot. Children report how their fathers were arrested before their eyes. Activists tell how the regime reacted to the protests with torture. The article received several media awards. Nevertheless, the documentary never crossed the screen on CNNi, the most watched English-language news channel in the Middle East.
Film author never received an answer
For political journalist Glenn Greenwald of the “Guardian”, CNNi’s action is astonishing in several respects: the production costs for “iRevolution” were very high at 100,000 francs. For years CNN and CNNi have had strict budget targets. A long-time employee who wanted to remain anonymous described “iRevolution” as “an expensive, high-quality international story about the Arab Spring”. CNN had already paid the contribution, CNNi would have had free access to it. This makes it “very unusual for the employee that it was not broadcast”.
The station’s producers and reporters had complained that CNNi did not broadcast “iRevolution. The film’s author, Amber Lyon, met with CNNi’s president on several occasions to find out why it was withheld. But she never received an answer – instead, according to the Guardian, a request not to speak publicly about the subject anymore.
Has the author been handicapped at work?
CNN itself says the documentary was produced for CNN USA. It wasn’t broadcast as a whole on CNNi, but parts of it were. “Such decisions are only made for editorial reasons,” it says in a statement. The situation in Bahrain has been the subject of several critical reports since February 2011.
Correspondent Amber Lyon, however, claims that she has already been hindered in her research work. CNN had asked her to include statements in her contribution that were incorrect. For example, she had to quote Bahrain’s foreign minister, who said that there was no shooting at unarmed civilians. “I couldn’t believe CNN got me to introduce something into my report that I knew was lies from the government.
“Strategy of Extensive Financial Agreements.”
In the “Guardian”, political journalist Greenwald assumes a massive PR campaign with which Bahrain has tried to boost its image. Since spring 2011, 32 million Swiss francs have been spent on this campaign. A lot of money has gone to PR firm Qorvis Communications in Washington, which has often been a leader in lawsuits against Bahrain reporting. Since the 2008 financial crisis, CNN’s dependence on state money from Arab regimes has increased significantly.
CNN is pursuing a “strategy of extensive, multifaceted financial agreements” with various repressive Arab regimes, writes the “Guardian”. This is particularly clear in Bahrain. CNN pursues journalistically questionable ways of obtaining state money, the article reads. “The government of Bahrain is exploiting the possibilities, the CNNi offers the most aggressive.
CNN says that advertising and sponsored content have been broadcast since the 1990s. However, the editorial and commercial areas are strictly separated. Such agreements would have no influence whatsoever on editorial work. In addition, CNN received only a very small amount of advertising from Bahrain.
No secrecy agreement
Amber Lyon no longer works for CNN. She was dismissed in March 2012 as a result of restructuring. On Twitter she commented on the case herself – whereupon she promptly received mail from CNN asking her to hold back, otherwise payments to her would be stopped. Lyon stresses that she has not signed a confidentiality agreement with CNN. “I became a journalist to expose, not to cover. And I’m not willing to keep silent any longer, even if it means losing those payments.”