25th Feb, 2013 –

In these days when journalists rarely travel to foreign parts and mostly rely for their stories on news agencies and the rumour mill; two phenomena become highly noticeable: Firstly; all the reports about a particular political event start looking the same, because the press simply takes the best bits of what their rivals are writing. Secondly; people at the heart of those political events will often notice that what has been written in faraway places makes a good story, but bears little resemblance to the reality.

Thus, the Carnegie Foundation organized a recent event on Bahrain during which various opposition figures and journalists elaborated on a conspiracy theory that a branch of the Bahraini Royal family is involved in a secret feud with the King and Crown Prince. The debate speculated that figures are anti-Western hardliners who may spook the US into drawing-down diplomatic and military ties.

A Wall Street Journal correspondent got quite excited at this point and went away and wrote a lengthy piece putting together odds-and-ends from Wikileaks, bits of gossip and a few indirect quotes from oppositionists and disaffected elements of the ruling family.

The next day the British “Independent” newspaper decided that this made a pretty good yarn and published a steamed-up summary of the Wall Street Journal article as its own, under the excitable headline: “Bahrain’s royal family infiltrated by hardliners hostile to Britain and US”. The Independent bases this speculation about British diplomatic concerns on quotes from London-based opposition figures, without even bothering to check its facts.

You may be surprised to hear most Bahrainis don’t distinguish the Royal Family into separate branches. They certainly wouldn’t recognize the terms invented by these Western media outlets who are trying to present this united and respected family as being divided into warring factions.

We won’t bore readers by going through these articles and rubbishing them sentence by sentence. Although, to note one of the more minor errors: According to the Wall Street Journal report most of Bahrain’s 1.2 million population are Shia. Actually, more than half of this number are non-Bahrainis and not even Muslim.

The two ministers referred to in these articles are powerful figures in Bahrain. However, they owe their position and status to the King and to their efforts to further the interests of Bahrain. The King promoted them to their positions based on his trust in their capabilities and this trust exists to this day – by all accounts.

The Royal Court Minister is a respected moderate with a major role to play in overseeing and initiating the National Dialogue and reconciliation process – efforts which he has given his wholehearted public support to. We spoke to Western diplomatic sources based in Bahrain who stressed the good relations they enjoy with the Royal Court.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force, Shaikh Khalifa, is a Sandhurst graduate who is in daily contact with his British and American interlocutors, as a result of the close naval relations which have existed for decades. The Wall Street Journal incorrectly implied that the Crown Prince was pushed out of his Armed Forces role by Shaikh Khalifa. The Crown Prince was actually promoted to Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces from his previous position as Commander-in Chief (the King is the Supreme Commander).  

The media loves a good story about Royal power struggles. We only have to look at the way that the lives of European monarchs are sensationalized and analyzed to absurdity. Such obsession with every detail of the lives of the royals of Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and Monaco; and inventing scandals out of obscure rumours may seem like a harmless pursuit. However, we know where this can end up; with Princess Diana literally pursued to her death by the media.

Unfortunately, now such allegations have been published about Bahrain by apparently reputable major news outlets they are out there in Cyberspace to be played with by hundreds of less reputable outlets – let’s not even speculate what the Iranian media will do with this story once they get their teeth into it!

We can be thankful that all the key elements of Bahrain’s leadership are committed to National Dialogue – despite the opposition continue to hedging their bets between talks and rioting. In recent days opposition representatives firstly refused to join with other Dialogue participants in condemning violence; and secondly brought the talks to a halt by demanding participation by a representative of the King, despite the Government being represented already by the Justice Minister.

Because most of the journalists and media outlets writing about Bahrain rarely visit, we will probably have to live with the fact that much reporting strays far from the truth. However, it is right that we take the media to task when they get it so horribly wrong.

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