Bahrain Watch today released its Fabrigate project, listing 25 news stories that exemplify how state propaganda fabricates quotes by high-profile officials to support the Bahraini government’s narrative.
Since the 2011 pro-democracy protests, state-run Bahrain News Agency and state-controlled newspapers, published a barrage of fake stories; from British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt blaming violence in Bahrain on protesters, to a retired US General characterizing the unrest as an “American conspiracy… instigated by Iran.” Whether it is UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon or ex-UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, state media had no qualms in fabricating statements by such high profile figures in its relentless effort to control the narrative. The state-controlled press even faked a Wikileaks cable to embarrass an MP who was critical of the Prime Minister. Only this month, pro-government newspapers printed a fake quote from a Wefaq opposition member “welcom[ing] participation” in the upcoming parliamentary elections; contrary to the society’s plans to boycott them and the public denial of this statement.
In a companion report, Bahrain Watch explores how a culture of fabrication was created in Bahrain’s media, and why it persists today. The report states “As humorous and absurd as these reports may seem, there is a tragic side to this misinformation: in some cases this fake news feeds the social tensions that fuel civil discord, sectarianism and animosity that could lead to violence.” The report points out controls on registration of websites and press outlets, the absence of a public complaints mechanism to challenge editors, and the partiality of the judicial system towards the government in selecting cases of defamation to prosecute.
Yousef Alsaraf, a Research Assistant at Bahrain Watch remarked: “In many places in the world, certain media exaggerates or spins the news. It is rare to find a case like that of Bahrain, where the press repeatedly fakes entire stories with impunity, and when caught, does not print a correction or retraction. The fabricated news serves not only to mislead and control the population, but also to inflame sectarian tensions. The Bahraini government’s media tactics are textbook examples of Arab regimes’ response to the Arab uprisings and their attempts to control the local narrative with little integrity and regard to the truth they claim to be defending.”
The report also includes recommendations for the Government of Bahrain, some of which include: to liberalise the media sector allowing for independent media, eliminating censorship, facilitating equal access to state-controlled media, and allowing the establishment of an independent regulator for local media outlets and an editors Code of Practice.
Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based advocacy. About Bahrain Watch: https://bahrainwatch.org/about.php