BBC admits errors in Bahrain unrest coverage
Manama, June 29, 2012
BBC initially underplayed the sectarian aspect of the conflict and did not adequately convey the viewpoint of supporters of the monarchy in its coverage of Bahrain's unrest, said a BBC Trust report.
It also failed to mention attempts by Crown Prince His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to establish dialogue with the opposition, according to the publication - which investigated the organisation's "impartiality and accuracy" of its coverage of the Arab Spring.
"They seemed rather to anticipate criticism from the opposite quarter and volunteered acknowledgement of a degree of partiality, during the first weeks of the disturbances, in favour of the opposition," said BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner in the 89-page report, nine of which were dedicated to the BBC's coverage of events in Bahrain.
Head of newsgathering Fran Unsworth said the BBC initially struggled to get the complexities across of the unrest, a view backed up by World News Editor Jon Williams.
"In Bahrain at the beginning we viewed this through the prism of what was going on elsewhere - a default narrative about a Shia majority oppressed by a Sunni minority, but it is more complex than that," he said in the report.
Director of Global News Peter Horrocks also spoke out about the BBC's coverage of the unrest.
"In Bahrain it's important to understand the Sunni perspective on the insurgent threat ... not to excuse, but to explain why the regime was responding the way it was," he said.
In assessing its coverage during the first weeks of last year's disturbances, the report said it was hardly surprising that protests in Bahrain were presented in the context of the Arab Spring - given they happened only three days after the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
But a two-minute news item by BBC Middle East correspondent Ian Pannell was heavily criticised.
"This report, put together in 24 hours or less in very difficult conditions, conveyed a lot of information in two short minutes, while effectively engaging viewers in the human drama of a small, faraway country of which most of them probably knew nothing.
"On one level, therefore, a good example of BBC professionalism, but there was a crucial omission: no mention of sectarian divisions in the country or its previous history of conflict.
"Obviously reporters cannot be expected to rehearse the entire history of a conflict each time they report on it, but this was probably the first time some viewers would have heard anything at all about Bahrain and only a handful are likely to have been aware of its demographic and political problems.
"Here was an incomplete account, which showed no awareness of Bahrain's specific history and context, but saw the conflict there through the prism of revolts elsewhere in the region."
The report said the mistakes left many people feeling the BBC's coverage was "utterly one-sided".
"The Bahrain government was far from reacting in the single-mindedly ruthless manner adopted in the same days and weeks by Gadaffi in Libya and later by Assad in Syria," said the report.
"In particular, between 19 February and 14 March (last year) the government appears to have made a good-faith effort to de-escalate the crisis."
The report referred to the setting up of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, the Crown Prince's attempts to reach a solution to the crisis, the dismissing of four Cabinet Ministers, pardoning people convicted in political cases and allowing exiled political leaders to return. – TradeArabia News Service