An online opinion poll on Radiotimes.com for the best current affairs film in Britain’s upcoming Bafta Television awards featuring Al Jazeera’s controversial 2011 documentary ‘Bahrain: Shouting in the dark’ has become a cyber-weapon for regime supporters and for those calling for more democracy in a Twitter war.
The film which depicted scenes of the regime crushing peaceful protests has won several awards already. The online poll on Radiotimes.com will not determine the outcome of the Bafta result. It will simply measure the online audience’s opinion.
“RadioTimes.com has become an unlikely battleground for supporters and opponents of the Bahrain government, after the nation's foreign minister urged Bahrainis to vote in an opinion poll on the site,” a report on the website read.
More than 500,000 people have voted in the poll, with a vast majority of hits from Bahrain.
"This has proved to be due, in part, to an intervention from the Khalifa dynasty that rules Bahrain," the report added.
On April 28, Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid Al Khalifa tweeted: “I call on everybody to stand with Bahrain and to vote against the offensive Al Jazeera film. May Allah reward you the best,” and included a link to the poll.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) has reviewed Twitter to find hundreds of other users calling for followers to vote against the film, by instead voting for its main competitor in the poll – Sri Lanka’s killing fields, a Channel 4 documentary which investigated alleged war crimes in the South Asian country.
The DCMF has a bank of screen shots in Arabic from users including ‘Maryam’, who said: “Come on people let's complete this vote for Sri Lanka so Al Jazeera loses and we give her a lesson she'll (Al Jazeera) never forget- everyone vote for option #2”. Another tweeting under the handle ‘Jaguar’ said: “Oh noble people of the Gulf, vote for "Sri Lanka" and prevent the Shia infidels from defaming Bahrain- Oh Arabs vote and spread this- our Gulf is one.”
There are also plenty of supportive tweets, urging people to click and show their appreciation of the film.
'Bahrain: Shouting in the dark' has won the UK Foreign Press Association Documentary Award 2011, George Polk Award for Excellence in Journalism and the Scripps Howard Award for Television Reporting. It has been nominated for the Bafta Current Affairs award, Amnesty International media award and the Nymphe D'Or award (Montecarlo film festival). The film did not win the Royal Television Society Award, for which it was nominated.
A 'new era' of media freedom in Bahrain?
Following the online battle, but not necessarily related, Bahrain’s King Hamad has accused foreign media of exaggerating unrest and inciting violence witnessed during the recent Formula 1 race.
"It is quite clear that Bahrain has been targeted by purposeful, willful campaigns in some foreign media that sought to distort true facts, instigate violence, sabotage, hatred and hostility among citizens in our united nation," the king said in a speech carried by the state news agency BNA marking the International Day for Freedom of the Press on May 3.
Bahrain’s daily English-language newspaper Gulf Daily News also dedicated its front page on World Press Freedom Day (today, May 3) to comments by the King that Bahrain is due to enjoy a 'new era' of media freedom.
"There should be no tampering with the right of Bahraini citizens in expressing their opinions, nor any ceilings put on their freedoms or creativity apart from professional consciousness, national and ethical responsibilities and observance of the people's unity and national interest in compliance with the constitution and the law," the paper reported the King as saying.