The Changing Media Industry in Bahrain
Changes in media presentation and information delivery is a 21st-century issue that people embrace from different parts of the world. Pitiably, some parts of the world still strive to integrate such structures into existing systems. Besides giving an overview of the ethnic and socio-political environment of Bahrain, the paper provides an opportunity to compare traditional and new media.
Even though digital media strives to surpass traditional media, the electronic media is still at its infancy, and therefore under huge surveillance and government control. Other issues under discourse include the merits and demerits of electronic media for the people of Bahrain with much focus on the positive effects. The Arab Spring and its consequences are still evident, and it explains the austerity regarding new media in the country.
Largely, the Bahraini media broadcast and print are in Arabic with an occasional presentation of news pieces in English and Malayalam. The Bahrain News Agency is in control of most media outlets but plans to embrace new media from other countries, including CNN. It also offers oversight to regional and global news delivered in Arabic or English. Bahrain is a kingdom ruled by a family condemned for its austerity over media censorship.
The media in Bahrain experiences partial freedom because the ruling power policy largely defends the media that highlights the activities of the royal family in a good light. Bahrain has a diverse population with immigrants from different countries, including the US, China, and Malaysia, among other countries. It explains the significance of local media content in fulfilling the desires of the target consumers. Transition to digital media was not very easy for the Bahraini government ahead of the Arab Spring of 2011 to 2012.
Bahrain’s media industry used to be one of the most conservative in the UAE. State-owned media houses operate under the influence of the government. Unlike Dubai and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain accommodates different religious beliefs, such as the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, among several others.
Two years ago, the Bahraini government decided to open its system to new media. The digitalization of media content and reduced censorship of traditional media explains the extensive involvement of Bahrain residents in social media. Today, the country records about 1,000,000 digital media users in the country.
Traditional media in Bahrain
Al Waqt and the Al Wasat are the most common dailies produced by the Bahraini Press. Most Newspapers read in the country are in Arabic, gaining a readership of about 70 000 people daily. Media censorship mostly results from extensive appraisal of the kingdom and the family that runs it. In the recent past, the monarchical government permitted privately owned media houses to invest in the country.
The growing demand for digital media was obvious, especially for foreign media houses broadcasting in English, Pakistani, and Hindi, among other languages. Bahrain has different ethnic groups, but the four most popular are the Shia, Balochis, Bania, and the Sunni. Normally, over censorship of the media leads to the departure of most media outlets to other countries. In addition, media censorship reduces political, economic, social, and technological growth in different countries, not only in Bahrain.
The media provides coverage to different UAE countries, and it explains why Dubai gets the highest amount of publicity, followed by Saudi Arabia in the UAE. Ordinarily, Saudi Arabia has strict media censorship characterized by the existing societal frames. According to the framing theory, different regions create frames that best identify with their cultures, political ideologies, and beliefs (Ebrary, 2008).
When the set frames display excess censorship of the media, it becomes very difficult for other countries to understand ongoing activities within the target environment. Sometimes people prefer establishing businesses in Saudi’s hostile environment because of its good media coverage as opposed to Bahrain or Kuwait, which are fairly calm and good for businesses. According to Plunkett (2007), press freedom or diversity does not signify fewer media censorship.
The Bahraini government is yet to come to terms with the transforming business environment since it places more emphasis on media content in comparison to the value media freedom adds to the country. Most people feel that the Bahraini kingdom censors much information, and it explains the slurred technological growth.
Oil-rich countries in the gulf mostly experience the challenge of overreliance on religion and political viewpoints while forgetting that media freedom should serve the people and not the government. Media gagging most occurs through prominent constitutional clauses such as the Press Law of 2002, which restricts the media in terms of sources of information.
Changing media habits in Bahrain
It took about nine years for the media in Bahrain to enjoy using digital content, a battle that began in 2002. By 2011, the media in Bahrain and other parts of the world declared the country one of the most misinformed states in the world. Signal blocking for Al Jazeera in Qatar and Al Arabiya in Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring, and limiting internet use prevented many people from understanding the happenings within the country and the UAE.
According to RSF, Bahrain tops the list of internet foes. Bloggers, activists, and other social network users are in the process of seeking justice after their imprisonment for displaying pornographic material or data that was likely to fuel ethnic violence. Intimidating digital media is not a way to peace and normalcy in countries. Instead, media freedom and moderate surveillance of media content are good for a developed country.
Bahrain protects the Muslim religion, its political activities, and the culture, and it explains why the media has to be careful when covering such content. When Bahrain invited international media into the country, the visitors had to pay attention to minute details. Media filtering is nothing new in the country, and the international media had to give a list of all the equipment they would bring into the country (Gunther, 1992).
Accountability is different from asking people to present the list of both tactical and informational equipment in a country. Since the country opens to foreign direct investment and the international media, the people from Bahrain enjoy high-speed internet connectivity and advancements in ICT. Al Wasat and the Gulf News that cover the larger GCC went digital, and information became accessible and affordable to many people who could not purchase newspapers daily.
Bahrain citizens do not have to wait for publication the next day; they access newspapers online. Technology is ubiquitous and inevitable in the 21st century (Plunkett, 2007). Sometimes the surveillance authorities fail to realize that people opt for digital content because of its easy accessibility allowing people to access different materials from phones and other small gadgets. In addition, powering technology is slightly easy because portable and light devices can store power for many hours.
By 2008, the UAE displayed the highest amount of internet penetration in the world. Du and Etisalat, the greatest mobile data and phone operators, enjoyed consumer attention, but Bahrain was still in the process of opening its overly conservative system to new media. The following graph explains the different ways in which the internet slowly penetrated the Bahraini landscape.
Internet penetration is a transition that takes the world by storm. In the recent past, the Bahraini people depended on computers to access the internet. Today, they depend on smart TVs and Phones for similar services (Chhabra, 2013).
The fact that people carry high-speed internet gadgets enabled by 4G internet connectivity proves that Bahrain is in the process of a major internet revolution. From cyber cafes to open email addresses and the use of social media in homes, colleges, and other social places, the government fears for a great Arab Spring that surpasses 2011 attempted coup.
Impact of changing media on society
Freedom of the press is an indicator of democracy. However, media management is necessary because the information remains very sensitive, and lack of control could lead to massive destruction. The digitalization of media content in Bahrain has great consequences for the people. They enjoy high-speed connectivity at affordable prices, but the trend threatens the morality of its youths.
Media content digitalization
When digital media surfaced in the world, traditional media was afraid that it might lose jobs, especially some print journalists. Naturally, the role of the editor in the newsroom keeps changing because he or she is no longer the gatekeeper. Instead, the news editor plays the role of a receiver of critical information through blogs and other timely news avenues. With 4G internet connectivity, people can receive virtually all types of news in various languages, including Hindu and Sunni.
In an attempt to revive the dying print content, newsrooms transform newspapers and magazines into softcopy, enabling Bahraini residents to access Al Wasat online. Bahraini citizens can also use Etisalat phone and internet services to search for various information of great interest to them, and this varies from one individual to another.
Today, 60% of newspaper readership depends on digital content, and the greatest advantage is that the digital content has translations into the nine ethnic subgroups of the Bahraini people (Watch, 2010). Consequently, international media uses the same platform for communication in English and foreign languages. Even though Bahrain is one of the most accommodating countries in the UAE for immigrants, the Arabic language and Islam are some of the most prominent cultural aspects that even digital media appreciates.
Antony is a business analyst who identifies the government, the social environment, and the political climate as dependents of e-commerce. SMEs are largely dependent on e-commerce because of the need to identify the growing markets while advertising at the same time. Media houses apply a similar concept by opting for the digitization of newspapers and tabloids to increase access to the materials.
Chhabra (2013) discusses resource mobilization in four different ways. He identifies the way e-commerce contributes towards the development of business-to-business (B2B), business to customer (B2C), customer to business (C2B), and customer-to-customer (C2C). The four areas summarise the societal facets that specifically require the services of e-commerce. Once an economy goes global and capitalist, there are high chances that it will equally go electronic.
China and the Middle East had some of the most conservative economic structures. However, they realized that Africa is an excellent market for crude oil and other raw materials. Structures put in place in the developed world have few e-commerce avenues whose expertise is obvious. The regulations are top-notch, and taxation is inevitable. Regionally, people promote the growth of e-commerce through diversified structures.
Chhabra (2013) mentions that regulation is difficult when countries operate many e-commercial outlets at the same time while neglecting legal and ethical measures requisites of protecting the buyers and sellers. Other key players in the industry include broadband service providers who provide high-speed internet services while enabling the suppliers to meet the sellers and the customers.
Electronic companies have the role of designing software that would accommodate the growing need for e-commerce, including affordability and reliability. The agricultural sector and the fashion industry cannot ignore the role that e-commerce plays in promoting businesses.
Today, farmers share information concerning-agriculture, which provides sustainable agricultural solutions. Sesame seeds, sunflowers, and cauliflower are in high demand, but few farmers are capable of accessing this information without e-commercial knowledge. Even as these areas require the attention of e-commerce, the Bahraini people need education, empowerment, skills, and equipment to manage e-commerce.
Cultural integration opens up economies to different investment ventures in the world. When two countries do not understand each other, it becomes impossible to establish foreign relations. At the macro-environmental level, the Bahraini people often communicate with different people across the world through social networks. Today, Facebook and Twitter are the most common social networks through which they share information.
The response to social networks owes to the affordability, efficiency, and effectiveness of information transfer from one place to another. For instance, it only takes seconds to connect to a person in the US through Facebook or Twitter. Alternatively, people can use VOIP services, which are equally fast, safe, and efficient, but are slightly costly in comparison to social networking, emailing, and other internet usage platforms.
The internet breaches all cross-cultural barriers, and it explains why Bahrain is in the process of establishing an American entertainment industry in the country. Walt Disney is in the process of extensive investment in parts of the East, and its success in East Asia gave the company optimism that it would survive in the Middle East. Initially, the Bahraini government ardently protected the Muslim religion while dictating the morals of society.
Through Pay TV channels, the people of Bahrain get exposure to international media, and it explains the reduced austerity on religious and cultural issues in the country. The media transforms the lifestyles of the people of Bahrain in a good way. For instance, the country largely depended on fish and other natural foods (Watch, 2010).
The eating etiquette is an element of culture influenced by the consumption of digital content since Pay TV has many food channels from across the world. The changing trend is a health concern for the people of Bahrain, but it boosts the economy for processed foods, especially proteins.
The media still changes in Bahrain, with most people embracing infrastructural development while realizing the need for quality communication in tapping the business potential of the country. When Saudi Arabia decided to develop a second megaproject in the country, other members of the UAE displayed massive interest in the facility. King Abdullah Economic City borders Jeddah and the Red Sea, while its proximity to Mecca is obvious.
Its placement in the region attracted Dubai, Kuwait, and Bahrain into establishing seaports that directly link to the KAEC. It means that digital communication is a rider for economic development because it provides an environment of information sharing and discourse across borders. The UAE countries understand that such projects will expand the entire region in one way or the other.
Saudi will not be the only beneficiary of the project because other member states of the UAE provide either mutual or direct support for the successful completion of KAEC in 2020. Digital media provides an excellent platform through which people in Bahrain can communicate with others within and outside the UAE in order to share information about development agendas (Ebrary, 2008).
Ahead of the 2011 Arab Spring, Saudi prevented Aljazeera from live broadcasts, and the internet went down until the crisis ended. Bahrain took a similar approach to digital content since the countries knew that social media and the internet fuelled the violence. Today, there are different graffiti in praise of social networks such as Facebook. The closure of Facebook was aimed at reducing ethnic mobilization and incitement through digital media.
During the Arab Spring, different surveillance units arraigned bloggers and journalists in courts for accounts of incitement. Arrests and torture were understatements for people found sharing any information that contradicted the rule of law. Antiriot police officers dealt ruthlessly with street demonstrators, and the intelligence units tracked servers across Bahrain. Following a temporary closure of Al Wasat, its reopening signified the extent to which government influence could cause the intimidation of independent media.
Issues of violation of human rights, corruption, and intimidation attracted many discussions, and the government had to intercept such information from reaching other parts of the world (Gingrich, 2003). The Wall Street Journal, the Sun, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and the New York Times, among other foreign media outlets, lacked access to Bahrain because the immigration commission refused to finalize the visa-issuance process during the Arab Spring.
Besides the increased revenue of digital media instead of traditional media,, there are concerns that the new media promotes obscenity, and it lacks privacy. For instance, during the Arab spring, the government intimidated media surveillance agencies to trace the IP addresses of different content users. Digital media is easy to corrupt since people use Photoshop software and other capabilities to impersonate other people and track them.
At the micro-environmental and the macro-environmental levels, digital media exposes several risks in Bahrain daily. The ruling family of the Bahraini kingdom only gives credit to religious, political, and cultural ethics with limited emphasis on the ethical and legal conduct of other people. In the future, Bahrain might be one of the greatest controllers of the roaming internet, especially when it threatens the political class (Patrut, Patrut, & Cmeciu, 2013).
In review, the transition from traditional to digital media is an exercise that will take Bahrain to realize it completely after a very long time. The monarchical government displays displeasure in free media because the 4th estate is likely to use the information to overturn the government. The situation in the expansive UAE is not very different because the government expects anything from the community that aggressively uses media sources for information dissemination.
Chhabra, S. (2013). ICT influences on human development, interaction, and collaboration. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Ebrary, I. (2008). Doing Business 2009: Comparing Regulation in 181 Economies. Washington: World Bank Publications.
Gingrich, G. (2003). Managing IT in government, business & communities. Hershey (PA), IRM Press.
Gunther, A. C. (1992). Biased Press or Biased Public? Attitudes Toward Media Coverage of Social Groups. Public Opinion Quarterly, 56(2), 147-167.
Patrut, B., Patrut, M., & Cmeciu, C. (2013). Social Media and the New Academic Environment: Pedagogical Challenges. Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global.
Plunkett, J. W. (2007). Plunkett’s wireless, wi-fi, RFID and cellular industry almanac 2008. Houston, Tex: Plunkett Research.
Watch, H. (2010). World Report 2008. New York: Seven Stories Press.
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