11th July, 2012 –
For long different media channels in Bahrain were disregarded by the general public. With the rise of social media channels several networks such as Facebook, twitter and blackberry messenger were fond to be highly effective in spreading news in the society.
The February 2011 unrest in the country started a new page to people’s activity through social media and their attentiveness to news channels. Bahrainis all of a sudden started monitoring news channels such as BBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and CNN on a much wider scale than they used to. Iranian channels backing the opposition such as Al Alam, Al Manar and Press TV were also closely watched by both the opposition and loyalists. These Iranian channels were viewed as media channels with a clear Shia propaganda backing the unrest in Bahrain.
Al Wesal, a Saudi backed Sunni channel came to rise as one of the main media outlets followed by loyalist Bahrainis during the unrest. Loyalist Bahrainis started watching Al Wesal, which clearly views extremist Sunni perspectives of the unrest in Bahrain, while directly attacking Shias around the world. The society was hence divided into loyalists following Al Wesal and Shia opposition members following Al Alam, Al Manar and Press TV as the main sources of news about the unrest in the Kingdom. The above mentioned channels such as Al Wesal, Al Safa, Al Alam, Press TV etc played a vital role in the sectarian tesions tearing down the Bahraini society each presenting opposing extremist views.
The state television BTV also gained a high number of viewers during the unrest and was later described as a main factor in the sectarian division caused in the Kingdom. During the peak of the unrest, BTV produced daily shows by controversial writer Saeed Al Hamad who directly exposed the opposition propaganda. This programme in addition to others was attacked by the opposition and played a major role in providing information to many loyalists. Prior to the unrest BTV was hardly viewed by Bahrainis whereas today the state television is not only popular in Bahrain but is also widely viewed by GCC nationals.
Social media channels
A sudden rise in the numbers of twitter and Facebook users was noticed during the peak of the unrest in February 2011. Twitter was specifically used as a major tool by the opposition to spread news about the acclaimed human rights abuses in Bahrain. During the period from 14 February 2011 up to 13 March 2011, it was noticed that there was hardly any sectarian language used by loyalists on social media, while the opposition took benefit of the situation and promoted their cause on a much wider level. The events of March 13th drastically changed the language used by Sunni loyalists as they started attacking their Shia country men following the University of Bahrain incident, attacks on expats and policemen viewed on the national television.
Loyalists have grown very aggressive on social media since march 2011 and have been strongly attempting to deliver their messages to the international media through their Facebook and twitter accounts. These attempts have however ended up in failure due to the use of sectarian terms and since the opposition had already presented a very strong image of acclaimed human rights abuses by the Bahraini authorities which were watched closely by people across the world. It was recorded that the highest average of Bahrainis using twitter was during 14 February 2012 ‘ the first anniversary of the unrest’. The social media war has not stopped in Bahrain ever since the unrest, it has been recorded that the use of social media channels by Bahraini has risen by 130% following the unrest.
The unrest has certainly resulted in a new media culture in the Kingdom, news channels; newspapers are increasingly followed by the young generation. Social media channels have become part of the daily routine of activities by many Bahrainis, as it is perceived as the easiest and most effective way of delivering messages by both loyalists and opposition members.