Right now in Bahrain, the Sunni monarchy is dissolving two Shiite opposition groups and detaining hundreds of activists in a bloody crackdown against Shiite-led protests. But according to Andrew Hammond at Reuters, you're not going to hear a lot about all that at Al Jazeera.
The Qatar-based television network's unrelenting coverage of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, Hammond explains, has played a pivotal role in sustaining momentum among protesters in those countries. Al Jazeera has cast these reform movements as pro-democracy "revolutions," solicited reports from citizens on the ground, aired views critical of the respective regimes, and distilled the essence of each uprising into rousing multimedia montages, played on a loop. But Al Jazeera's Arabic-language network has bestowed no such treatment on Bahrain, analysts tell Hammond (Al Jazeera's English-language version, according to Hammond, has devoted more coverage to the country).
Why the blind eye? Put simply, Bahrain is Qatar's ally, and the Qatari government owns Al Jazeera. Qatar and Bahrain are neighbors and fellow members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Hammond notes, and Qatar feels pressure from GCC member Saudi Arabia to keep Al Jazeera's coverage in check. Qatar's Sunni rulers also worry that if Bahrain's majority Shiites gain more power, Shiite-ruled Iran will be able to expand its influence in the region. In an interview with Hammond, an Al Jazeera spokesman conceded that Bahrain presented "challenging terrain" but invoked "editorial priorities," claiming that the channel is covering Bahrain as "extensively" as possible given the "heavy news agenda in recent months."
Al Jazeera isn't the only entity being criticized for not paying enough attention to Bahrain. Some observers are also calling out the U.S.--which maintains a key naval base in the island nation--for not speaking out against its ally's violent crackdown. The State Department did voice concern on Wednesday about the reported deaths of detainees in Bahrain, but for some that's not enough. As Amy Goodman wrote yesterday at The Guardian, Obama justified military intervention in Libya because innocent people were being killed and journalists arrested, but "now that the same things are happening in Bahrain, Obama has little to say ... Surely, U.S. interests include supporting democracy over despots." Similarly, Joshua Colangelo-Bryan wrote in Politico that Obama is "conceding to Saudi Arabia" and that Washington should state clearly that "U.S. military and other cooperation can't continue in the face of Bahrain's brutal police-state tactics."