Bahrain today officially announced the suspension of Al Arab satellite channel, after nine days of speculation, further cementing Bahrain's reputation as an enemy of free speech.
“The Information Affairs Authority (IAA) has announced the suspension of Al-Arab satellite channel following its failure to obtain the required licensing approval to commence broadcasting in Bahrain,” said a statement released by the government-run Bahrain News Agency.
The statement added:
the Channel had also failed to match the standards of regional and international practice agreements, to take account of efforts aimed at stemming the tide of extremism and terrorism throughout the region and the wider world.
The channel, owned by Saudi billionare businessman Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, abruptly stopped its scheduled broadcast on February 1, just a few hours after its debut, following an interview with opposition figure Khalil Al Marzooq, of Al Wefaq Islamic Society. At the time, the channel said it stopped its programmes due to “technical and administrative reasons” and would be “back soon.”
On February 2, on it's official Twitter account, the channel tweeted:
توقف البث لأسباب فنية وإدارية وسنعود قريبا ان شاء الله .
— قناة العرب (@AlArabNewsTV) February 2, 2015
Al Arab TV has stopped its broadcast due to technical and administrative reasons and we will be back soon by the will of Allah
Online and on mainstream media, many linked Al Arab's suspension to it hosting Al Marzook, who spoke out against the Bahraini government's announcement that it has revoked the nationality of 72 citizens for “damaging national security.” The bulk of those whose nationalities were revoked are political activists and opposition figures, including doctors, religious scholars, and bloggers and journalists living abroad. And thrown in are some 20 Bahrainis fighting under the Islamic State's flag, including Turki Al Binali, a leading IS ideologue.
Bahrain government officials have denied any connection between Al Marzook's appearance, and the closure of the channel. But many did not find the excuse that the channel was being shut down because it did not have the necessary permits plausible.
Bent Al Ajaweed notes:
مقر وتوظيف وتحديد سياسات ووضع برامج وعدّ تنازلي وإعلان مسبق وتواجد إعلامي .. وفي الاخير “عدم إستيفاء القناة للتراخيص”؟ #ايقاف_قناة_العرب
— بِـنـت الأَجـَاوِيـد (@BnT_elAjaweeD) February 9, 2015
They opened a premises, and hired people, and worked on programmes, and had a countdown, and advertised their opening in advance in the media, and after all this [they are shutdown] for not having the necessary permits?
Bahraini columnist Qassim Hussain uses a Who Wants to be a Millionaire allegory to describe the situation:
#bahrain: متأكد ان اغلاق قناة العرب ليست بسبب لقاء المعارض البحريني خليل المرزوق؟ متأكد مئة بالمئة؟ ما فيه حذف اجابتين او استعانة بصديق؟
— قاسم حسين (@kassimhussain1) February 9, 2015
Are you sure that Al Arab TV wasn't shut down because it hosted Bahraini opposition figure Khalil Al Marzook? Are you 100 per cent certain? Would you like to eliminate two answers or phone a friend?
While journalist Adel Marzook, who is in exile, explains:
— Adel Marzooq (@adelmarzooq) February 9, 2015
Bahrain officially announces that it has shutdown Al Arab TV because it did not have the necessary license to broadcast. It is worth noting that Bahrain does not even have a law which regulates television broadcasting in the country
Netizens were also quick to point out that any form of dissent is not tolerated and clamped down immediately in the country that has been rocked with so-called Arab Spring-like protests since February 2011.
According to the Reporters without Borders 2013 country report:
The Bahraini authorities continue to obstruct the work of journalists and to arrest, imprison and prosecute news providers in violation of the international undertakings it gave to the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.
This trend continued throughout 2014, and netizens drew parallels between the shutting down of the station and the Bahraini government's track record in closing in on opposition voices.
Abu Omar Al Shafie notes:
— أبوعمر- الشافعي (@ALSHAF3EE) February 9, 2015
Media history will stand witness that the authorities in Bahrain could not withstand seeing opposition figure Khalil Al Marzook on television for 90 seconds and shut down the station
Yacoub Al Slaise explains to his 5,000 followers:
— Yacoub Al-Slaise (@ysLaise) February 9, 2015
The closure of Al Arab TV is a new example of how our government is tripping up and tarnishing Bahrain's reputation. It was a golden opportunity which has sadly been wasted
Twitter user Ahmed Al Ghasra tells his 3,150 followers on Twitter:
Bahrain has been fighting media for a long period of time. They shut down Al Jazeera's offices, they withdrew the permits of journalists, they have jailed and killed journalists and have arrested photographers.
In another tweet, he wrote:
كم استثمار للوليد يمكن اي يتأثر بعد إغلاق القناة ؟! فندق على وشك الافتتاح والثاني تحت البناء وغيرة من الاستثمارات ما انعكاس هذا على الاقتصاد
— A7md Al-Ghasra (@A7mdG) February 9, 2015
How many investments by Al Waleed [bin Talal] will be impacted after the closure of the channel? There is a hotel about to be opened, another one another construction as well as other investments How does this reflect on the economy?
And journalist Mohammed Al Ghasra wonders what will happen to the channel's staff:
380 موظف يعملون بالقناة و70% منهم اعلاميين سعوديين.. وعدد كبير من البحرين . ما مصيرهم وهل يامنوا القناة بعد مغادرتها البحرين؟؟ ستكون مرمى. — mohammed al ghasra (@ghasra) February 9, 2015
380 employees work at the channel, 70 per cent of whom are Saudis, and a large number of whom are Bahrainis. What will happen to them and will they get employed should the channel leave Bahrain?
Meanwhile, Bahraini scholar Abdulhadi Khalaf, whose nationality was revoked too, concludes:
الحاصل:لو عملت المعارضة بجميع اطيافها ليل نهار كي تشرح للعالم تدني سقف حرية التعبير في البحرين لما حققت ما حققته السلطة حين أوقفت قناة العرب
— Abdulhadi Khalaf (@Abdulhadikhalaf) February 5, 2015
In conclusion, if the opposition, with all its factions, worked day and night to explain to the world the demise in the ceiling of freedom of expression, they wouldn't have achieved what the government did by shutting down Al Arab TV.
It also appears that the channel's website has also been shutdown. This is a screenshot from Bahrain earlier today: