‘Bahrain not ready for freedom of expression’

Reuters / Karam Jamal
The shutdown of the Al-Arab channel in Bahrain shows the country is not ready to have any type of freedom of speech, neither for the government opposition, nor for the local media, Jawad Fairooz, a former member of Bahrain’s parliament told RT.

READ MORE: Bahrain gags newly-opened TV channel after opposition figure interview

RT:The Al Arab channel was shut down after a prominent opposition member was invited on air. Let's listen to what he said....In the country where pro-democracy activists aren't really allowed on State TV, we shouldn't exactly be surprised it was taken off air so soon should we?

Jawad Fairooz: Bahrain is not ready to have any type of freedom of expression, neither for the opposition, nor for any media. So at the beginning we were a little bit surprised that this channel accepted the opposition to appear and to express their views. We thought that it is some type of the initial stage of the channel, because it has been founded by Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, and maybe later on they will direct it to be some [channel] promoting mostly the current regime in the Gulf States.

But it looks like Bahrain’s regime was not happy with this issue. Definitely they cannot stop it forever because the influence of Al-Waleed bin Talal is so strong. But we are afraid that the marginal freedom of expression within the channel will be reduced.

RT:Why is it that Saudi Arabia opened a channel with "independent political coverage" in Bahrain, when they themselves jail people for even tweeting something inappropriate?

JF: Unfortunately, Bahrain missed a lot of chances for large investment projects through all the years because the government is focused on the security measures. They don’t want to open the country to more investments, media-wise, the trade, and so on. So the priority for the government now is the security measures.

So they took that strong stand against the channel. It is so clear that they want to show that they don’t want to repeat similar channels in the Gulf like Al Jazeera. It indicates that the reforms which have been announced by Bahraini’s regime and has been backed by the UK … is just propaganda. It was a clear test they cannot handle a channel to invite an opposition member to appear and speak about something that all the international community, international media are focused on. How can such an independent channel ignore it and that was stripping the nationality of 72 Bahrainis.

Deputy General Secretary of Bahrain's main Shi'ite opposition group al-Wefaq, Khalil al-Marzouq (Reuters / Hamad I Mohammed)

RT:How was it possible that this channel was even allowed to open?

JF: Still we have doubt how they accepted Bahrain to be the base for this channel. But maybe they thought that by 2015 the uprising will be over and they will have full control and the opposition would have the chance to discuss their issues in the media. They thought [that] after the last election which was in November 2014 the business will be over with the opposition, and either they are going to be a part of the system or even they are going to be away which is currently like that, then they don’t have that much power or strength to be there in the media.

I think this didn’t go the way they planned. At the same time maybe the directors of the channel thought that it could be accepted by the government that such marginal freedom of speech would be given to the channel at least at the launch, at the beginning of it. But it looks like Bahrain is so rigid. At the same time they are so strict on any type of criticizing of the regime locally, regionally or internationally.

RT:They're saying that this channel will be back on air and matters will be resolved. If so, do you expect to be invited on in the future or perhaps other opposition figures?

JF: I think it is going to be back on, but [there is going to be] another contractual agreement between the two. Maybe the main director and the owner are going to meet with the King [Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa]. I think he himself has such power on it. And some bargain is going to be there. I don’t think that such a huge investment is going to be [there] and a different agreement is going to come. And they are more close to please the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] governments more than to please the opposition.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.