Al-Arabiya fined for passing off torture video as journalism

Al-Arabiya fined for passing off torture video as journalism
The Saudi-owned channel has been severely reprimanded by British regulators for a misleading February 2016 broadcast of statements extracted from Bahraini dissident Hassan Mushaima under torture.
4 min read
26 January, 2018
The media watchdog handed the channel a hefty fine for serious broadcasting infringements [Getty]
The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV channel has once again fallen foul of broadcasting standards, being fined £120,000 ($170,000) by media watchdog Ofcom for screening "confessions" made by jailed Bahraini opposition leader Hassan Mushaima which were extracted under torture, and passing the footage off as an interview with one of its reporters.

Mushaima, a prominent Shia cleric and founder of the now-dissolved Bahraini opposition movement Al-Wefaq, had brought forward a complaint of "unfair treatment and unwarranted infringement of privacy" against the Saudi channel.

In February 2016, the channel broadcast a feature on the crushed 2011 anti-regime uprising, in which they included interviews with the cleric conducted after his arrest in 2011 as he was awaiting trial.

The broadcast included several "confessions" made by Mushaima - that Iran had helped him spark the uprisings, as well as apologies for trying to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. However, it later came to light, thanks to an official Bahraini Commission of Inquiry, that the alleged confessions had been extracted from Mushaima and his fellow detainees under torture, which Al-Arabiya failed to make public to viewers.

Al-Arabiya said the "interview", recorded in a Bahraini prison, had been filmed by a freelance journalist using the network's equipment - but it later transpired that the questioning was conducted by members of Bahrain's Special Security Force Command.

Al Arabiya's broadcast was found to breach two codes upheld by the watchdog, of unfair treatment, and infringement of privacy of Mushaima. The hefty fine reflects the gravity of the two infringements.

The TV channel was ordered by Ofcom to "refrain from broadcasting the material found in breach again", however its licence was not suspended, as previously thought possible.

Ofcom alluded to the disingenuous nature of Al-Arabiya's broadcast, stating it had "the potential to materially and adversely affect viewers' perception of [Mushaima]", and that the channel "did not make clear what steps it had taken to ensure that material facts had not been presented, omitted or disregarded in a way that was unfair to Mr Mashaima [sic]", highlighting the torture to which he was subjected in 2011.
Mushaima was a key figure in the ill-fated Arab Spring
protests in Bahrain and has been in prison ever since [Getty]

According to the Ofcom report, the broadcast showed Mushaima as saying: "The republic is a clear mistake and I am ready to apologise…apologise to the people. I accept [I have] to apologise because this was a mistake and shouldn't have happened."

Mushaima continues in his apology, saying: "I had the intention, if I had the opportunity, to say in a public speech to the people that I made a mistake in this matter, even if the others are not convinced, at least I am convinced that this was not a good choice, and maybe, maybe I tell you if I had time, I would have backed down."

The presenter of Al-Arabiya's broadcast, which it claimed was to mark the anniversary of the "troubles" in Bahrain, also accused Mushaima of going to Beirut to meet Hizballah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Mushaima was sentenced to life in jail by a military court, for his participation in the ill-fated uprising against the Bahraini regime as part of the Arab Spring wave of protests against tyrannical dictatorships in the region. He has been identified by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and the group has repeatedly called for his release.

Mushaima has been subject to severe physical and psychological torture, according to BIRD, a Bahraini human rights group.

Despite his ill health and advanced years, the activist has been beaten, drenched with water and forced to stand under an air conditioning unit, deprived of sleep, as well as being told his cancer has returned and the test results withheld.

Saudi Arabia's military was key in quashing Bahrain's burgeoning pro-democracy protests during the Arab Spring. Bahrain, its population majority Shia, has been ruled for over two centuries by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty, who rely on Riyadh's military might and support to maintain Sunni rule on the island.

Human rights groups have continually voiced concern for the activist's health and wellbeing, with Mushaima, almost 70 years old, now entering his eighth year behind bars. The cleric was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010, and still requires medical treatment, which he is being denied in prison.

This is not the first time the Saudi news channel has got itself in hot water concerning broadcasting standards.

During the GCC spat over the summer of 2017, the channel aired a simulation of a Qatari civilian jet being shot down by a Saudi fighter, in an apparent threat to Qatar. Following ensuing international outrage, the channel defended its broadcasts but came under fire for its unprofessional and irresponsible conduct.

Soon after, the channel was accused of spreading "fake news", when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange accused Al Arabiya of publishing "absurd fabrications" in an attempt to defame Qatar. The channel had, without proof, accused Assange of receiving "huge sums of money" from Qatar to withhold "dangerous cables" from alleged meetings between officials from Qatar, Israel and the US to incite unrest in Egypt.  

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