It is worth quoting at length the article that announces the decision--a piece in the state-run Gulf Daily News that shouts subtly, "NEWSPAPER SUSPENDED"--for sheer comedic value:
MANAMA: Bahrain last night suspended Al Wasat newspaper for publishing "unethical and unprofessional" reports.
The Information Affairs Authority also referred the newspaper to concerned authorities for an inquiry.
A programme on Bahrain TV last night detailed a report listing the "unprofessional and unethical practices" committed by Al Wasat, which were characterised by "lies, defamation and plagiarism".
The newspaper also published, with malicious intent, news and photographs on recent security developments, which were unauthentic, fabricated and misleading, directly targeting Bahrain's security and stability, according to the report.
The report also revealed compelling evidence that these news stories and photographs were published between March 25 and 28.
This represents a crime punishable by laws governing Press and publications in Bahrain, according to the report.
The TV programme also said the newspaper used old news published in Arab and local newspapers as well as on websites and online forums.
It then changed names of people in the stories with fictitious ones, according to the report.
The Central Informatics Organisation sent a letter to the Information Affairs Authority in this regard after checking names mentioned in the newspaper reports and found them to be fictitious, the Bahrain TV programme added.
So essentially through intrepid investigative work the government-run BahrainTV has "uncovered" some unethical media practices by its only rival. Go figure. Oh, and there's the small detail of the paper's Editor-in-Chief, Mansur al-Jamri ($10 if you can guess which village he's from), who just so happens to be the son of the late spiritual leader of the 1990s Shi'a intifada and ranking marja' in Bahrain, Sh. 'Abd al-Amir al-Jamri. But I doubt that's relevant.
Assuming al-Wasat remains "suspended" indefinitely, and given that the left-leaning Al-Waqt went under a few months ago, we are left in Bahrain with 5 main local newspapers by my count, all of them government-owned or -affiliated. There's Akhbar al-Khalij (pro-Prime Minister), Al-Bilad (ditto), Al-Watan (close to the Royal Court), Al-Ayam (owned by a former information minister-turned-adviser to the King), and The Gulf Daily News (English-language sister paper of Akhbar Al-Khalij).
If one desires some indication of the sort of unbiased reporting we can expect from this bunch, consider this story I highlighted in a previous post on the uncanny terrorist-thwarting ability of the Bahraini government. It was centered around this instructive terrorist network flow chart helpfully crafted by the incisive Al-Watan newspaper in its Sept. 16, 2010, issue (indeed I have saved it all this time because I knew it would come in handy):
In case you cannot follow the logic of the chart here, it goes something like this: there is a terrorist network led by Hasan al-Musheimi', Sh. Muhammad al-Miqdad, as well as this ghostly figure "Others?" with a question mark to get you thinking. Next we have the second-tier members of the terrorist network: two guys named Sami Mirza and Ahmad 'Abdallah along with more "Others?" This shadowy group that may or may not consist of only 4 people then engages in various terrorist activities, including but not limited to lighting cars on fire, using some sort of a burning stop-watch, lighting houses on fire, and slicking the sidewalk down with ice thereby making people trip and fall. (This is the last and more illustrative level of the flow-chart.)
The suspension of Al-Wasat therefore represents the government's latest riposte in the ongoing "media jihad" waged by the opposition. Recently it had resorted to arresting international news crews, including one from CNN, but presumably it's found that local outlets like Al-Wasat are less (i.e., un-) able to fight back. Of course, such a move is likely only to drive individuals to the Internet for their news, where coverage is much more polarized and rumor-based. It will be interesting to see, then, whether this crackdown on print media will be extended now into cyberspace.
Update: the aforementioned editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat, Mansur al-Jamri, has released the following statement (sorry for the bad translation):
"Brothers and sisters, perhaps all of your have seen what Bahrain TV aired Saturday night (April 2, 2011). What they published is untrue and is targeting Al-Wasat because it raised(?) the Waving Flag of Bahrain [a pro-government campaign; not sure of the meaning here]. ... We are preparing to issue a statement about what was published on Bahrain TV. I attempted to call into Bahrain TV many times, but they wouldn't let me respond. Thank you."
The Arabic (via the Facebook page of the February 14 movement):
Longer and more substantive statements are quoted in this piece from the Associated Press.
Update 2: In case you hadn't yet fully appreciated the political connotations of all of this, here is a video making its way around pro-government forums showing a ceremonial burning of the final issue of Al-Wasat (or Al-Wasakh--"dirt"--as he calls it) "on the occasion of the stoppage of [its] publishing" by some guys in al-Busaiteen that really like the Crown Prince:
Update 3: I agree the updates are getting ridiculous now, but it cannot be ignored that the ban on Al-Wasat turned out instead to be a coup, its editor-in-chief and two other top editors having been replaced.
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