CNN and the Bahraini Royal Family – Part II
(This second post relates to US media censorship of Obama’s hypocritical policy towards Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement.)
For the most part, the US media has been totally silent on the Bahraini pro-democracy movement and Obama’s decision to back the repressive regime that seeks to crush them. On September 4th, Glenn Greenwald published an opinion piece in the Guardian blasting CNN International (CNNi), the most watched English language network in the Middle East, for refusing to air the hour long documentary their own crew –led by investigative correspondent Amber Lyon – filmed in Bahrain in the aftermath of the government crackdown. As Greenwald reports, the commentary features graphic video footage of regime forces arresting and shooting peaceful, unarmed demonstrators, as well as explicit descriptions by pro-democracy activists of the torture they received at the hands of police and security officials.
The video footage was obtained at great cost, both to the CNN crew and the activists who consented to talk to them. While they were filming, Lyon and her cameramen were violently detained by 20 heavily-armed men in black ski masks who forced them to the ground with machine guns, seized their cameras. They were then forcibly transported to detention facility and interrogated for the next six hours.
CNN International Suppresses “iRevolution”
On 19 June 2011 at 8pm, CNN’s domestic outlet in the US aired “iRevolution” for the first and only time. According to Lyons, the documentary was deliberately aimed at an international audience. Yet despite receiving several prestigious journalism awards, and despite the dangers their own journalists and their sources endured to produce it, CNN International (CNNi) still refuses to broadcast the documentary.
In March 2012, Lyon was laid off from CNN as part of an unrelated move by the network to outsource its investigative documentaries. Last month the investigative journalist, who has more than 20,000 followers, began tweeting about CNN’s blatant censorship. “CNNi’s refusal to broadcast ‘iRevolution’, she tweeted on August 16th, “baffled producers”. Linking to the YouTube clip of the Bahrain segment, she added “the censorship was devastating to my crew and activists who risked lives to tell [the] story.
The following day, a representative of CNN’s business affairs office called Lyon’s acting agent, George Arquilla of Octagon Entertainment, and threatened that her severance payments and insurance benefits would be immediately terminated if she ever again spoke publicly about this matter, or spoke negatively about CNN.
King Hamad’s $32 Million PR Campaign
Greenwald believes the call is inked to a massive, well funded PR campaign, the Bahraini Royal family has undertaken to improve its image. As reported by Bahrain Watch, the regime has spent more than $32 million in PR fees since the Arab Spring began in February, 2011. One of the regimes largest contracts was with the Washington DC firm Qorvis Communications. As Time reported last November, Qorvis also does extensive PR work for Bahrain’s close allies, the Saudi royal family. Some leaked a CNN internal email to the Guardian about a Qorvis representative calling about excessively favorable mention of neurosurgeon Dr Nabeel Rajab (see prior post).
CNN’s Business Relationship with Bahrain
While it’s common for US mainstream outlets to bend over backwards to portray White House policy (in this case backing repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain), Greenwald suggests that CNN also had powerful commercial reasons for suppressing Lyon’s documentary footage. Greenwald’s article about “iRevolution” is accompanied by a backgrounder outlining CNN’s business relationships with the Bahraini monarchy. At the same time as CNN was supposedly covering the Arab Spring, Bahrain was a major participant in CNN’s various “sponsorship” opportunities – i.e. paid “informercials” dedicated at improving the nation’s image around the world. As Greenwald documents in the second piece, the result was a number of propagandistic documentaries – promoting Bahrain as an attractive haven for western investors and King Hammad as an avid environmentalist. All were broadcast with no or minimal disclosure that the government of Bahrain had paid for the programming.
The 13 minute segment produced in Bahrain is available at i-Revolution