| DUBAI, March 14
DUBAI, March 14 Bahrain rejected on
Wednesday a new report by an international media watchdog
describing the Gulf Arab state as an "enemy of the Internet"
after it crushed a pro-democracy uprising last year.
"Bahrain offers a perfect example of successful crackdowns,
with an information blackout achieved through an impressive
arsenal of repressive measures," the Paris-based Reporters
Without Borders (RSF) said in a report published this week.
The report cited exclusion of the foreign media, harassment
of human rights defenders, arrests of bloggers and Internet
activists, prosecutions and defamation campaigns against free
expression activists, and disruption of communications after
mass protests first erupted in February 2011.
It said Bahrain, where the Sunni Al Khalifa family rules a
majority Shi'ite population, slowed down the Internet and
increased filtering during the uprising, which was put down by
force after one month in March 2011.
Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts Washington's Fifth Fleet,
fell in RSF's press freedom index to number 173, seven places
from the worst offender, Eritrea, the watchdog said.
In its response, the Bahrain government said it was in the
process of improving media standards, according to the
recommendations of a commission of international legal experts
which criticised media policy in a hard-hitting report in
A statement faulted the group for not citing Bahrain's move
to establish the commission, the Bahrain Independent Commission
of Inquiry (BICI).
"The government of Bahrain remains committed to meeting
international media regulation standards and is working hard to
improve its domestic media environment. Nevertheless, reform is
a process and not an event," the government's Information
Affairs Authority (IAA) said.
"We hope that Reporters Without Borders follows this process
closely and engages with us to ensure future reports reflect an
accurate picture of the media environment in Bahrain."
The BICI report recommended that Bahrain's government allow
opposition groups access to state media.
However, state television has not covered a number of recent
large-scale rallies and marches with interior ministry approval,
including a rally last Friday that was the biggest since the
unrest began. Major pan-Arab media outlets controlled by fellow
Gulf Arab states also offer scant coverage of these events.
Friday's protest saw tens of thousands of Bahrainis take to
the streets to demand democratic reforms, stepping up pressure
on the government.
Shi'ites complain of political and economic marginalisation,
charges the government rejects. It has allowed the elected
parliament more powers of scrutiny over ministers and budgets.
But the opposition want a move towards full democracy, giving
parliament full powers to legislate and form governments.
(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Susan Fenton)