Rows of men dressed in uniforms stained with Saudi Arabian government markings fill the marketplaces. Standing with machine guns at every corner, they kept the streets clear of any idle pedestrians. Policemen set up checkpoints at every highway off-ramp to ensure no disruptive behavior. And Saudi tanks rolled through the streets, keeping everyone in their place as little children watched in confusion. This was the new Bahrain that UT petroleum engineering student Ali Hussain Khalifa remembers. It was only a few weeks earlier, in February of 2011, that the first protestors rose against the Al-Khalifa dictatorship in Bahrain. And if anyone outside the region picked up a newspaper, this story was likely left off.
Students like Khalifa are not the only ones who criticize the media portrayal of the Middle East. It is a growing sentiment throughout the public that mainstream American media caters to the personal interests of those in power including the wealthy corporations and current government, and anything that does not fit into their agenda is not properly covered. Any foreign intervention, like Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Bahrain, is usually considered newsworthy and often covered extensively in international headlines, but this specific intervention was only known to the public if they conducted their own research or sought other non-mainstream news sources.
Khalifa (no relation to current ruling family) said Bahrain no longer resembled home, and no one outside of Bahrain could see the crippling effect foreign countries had on his fellow Bahrainis. “It has been about 18 months since the protests started, and the U.S. media has not shown the suffering and pain the people are still going through today,” Khalifa said. “My happy memories of home have been tainted by these visions of foreigners controlling my country.”
He said the media coverage of the Bahrain revolution was and continues to be completely unfair. “The U.S. will only support any revolution if its consequences point toward military and political benefits for them,” Khalifa said. “These protests do not get the same attention that Syria, Libya, and Egypt received, and it is clear why.”
According to CNN archives, since the Bahrain protests started in February of 2011, only approximately 370 articles have been published on their online website – with the first article sharing a headline “President Obama friending Facebook creator Zuckerberg.” In comparison, there have been 498 total articles written about Syria’s protest in the first 10 months. However, between the start of the Bahraini protest in February of 2011 and May of 2012, Al-Jazeera English has had Bahrain in their news-coverage at least twice a week.
UT journalism professor Robert Jensen said media coverage of certain regions depends on the current U.S. policy toward that specific nation. “There are two types of revolutions,” Jensen said. “One type occurs in a country whose government is a clear ally to U.S., and the other is a country where the current government serves as the official enemy.”
With each region, the stance that the government takes varies, Jensen said. The government’s position dictates how the media portrays events in those areas, he added. “U.S. doesn’t care about new and rising democratic countries,” Jensen said. “They only care about maintaining control over their assets, and in the Middle East, that’s oil.”
Jensen said he doesn’t believe news is necessarily always there to tell people what’s going on in the world, but now it is an attempt to change the public’s perception about certain issues. This lack of objectivity and fair coverage makes others feel as if their views are radical or extremist, he said.
While the source of protests in Syria has been questioned, Jensen said the protests in Bahrain are believed to be organic and legitimately grown from the people. “This proves that our media system is skewed by our current foreign policy positions in the region,” he said. “It isn’t always fair reporting anymore.”
Taher Almadhoon, a protestor who was subject to torture and imprisonment during the revolution, has taken to social media networks to share his story with the outside world. In an online published piece, “The Story of a Prisoner from a Dream”, he explained the pain and harsh realities that are setting into Bahrain.
In broken English, Almadhoon writes that the protestors go to the remains of Pearl Roundabout to demand justice and equality. Since the protests in Bahrain began, Pearl Roundabout served as the iconic location protestors have rallied at, often using the monument as a site for their camp-outs and congregations speaking out against the government – until the Khalifa family demanded its demolition a few months after the protests began. “I go there, with everyone else, to claim the legitimate rights. I went asking for what all citizens want,” Almadhoon said. “They respond with beatings, kicks and insults against my faith.”
For people like Khalifa who have witnessed the suffering the media doesn’t cover, hope is slowly diminishing. “When CNN correspondents like Amber Lyon are sent to Bahrain to cover the protest but then dismissed for publically criticizing the arrangements between CNN and the Al-Khalifa regime, it’s hard to hope for any change,” Khalifa said.
When discussing solutions, Jensen said he doesn’t believe the systems that need fixing can be done so in isolation. “The way our mainstream media cannot be fixed until our government and policymakers change the way they function.”